Leaving a legacy: Unity helps East Ridge boys alpine team reach state, make mark
For senior captains Drew Del Toro and Evan Bilbrey, making the alpine skiing state meet had bigger implications than merely skiing in one more high school race.
"This is about more than just going to state and skiing there; this is about a legacy," Del Toro said. "We started something here at East Ridge. After being here for four years, Evan and I are leaving, but we're leaving something behind."
The East Ridge boys alpine team reached its first state meet, taking second place at the Section 4AA championship at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls. After finishing third a year ago and missing state by just one point, East Ridge scored 477 points to cruise past third-place Minneapolis Southwest, which scored 451 points, and fourth-place Hastings, which had 446 points. Stillwater won the section meet with 513 points.
"There were probably four or five teams we thought had a chance," head coach Kevin Seipel said. "We thought it would be close, but we didn't know if it'd work out for us. All of the guys had solid runs. None of them held back. They all skied the same way they did all year long and they were aggressive all day."
Del Toro and Bilbrey are part of the first-ever four-year graduating class at East Ridge High School. Both of them call downhill skiing their No. 1 sport and have been key members of the Raptors alpine team for the past four years.
"It was a young team starting out and we've kind of all grown up together," Del Toro said. "For me, the team that I've hung out with and grown up with has really been the biggest part of being an alpine skier."
Bilbrey said the team members work well together and have all become good friends.
"There's no problems within the team at all," Bilbrey said. "A lot of us have been together since our freshman year and this year it's started to come around for us. We had a very good year. Together we developed and pulled through. Each year we've done better and better. Now we did about as well as a team can do."
Though Del Toro and Bilbrey lead the team off the course, East Ridge's fastest skiers are all underclassmen. In the section meet, junior Oliver Kennedy and freshmen Jack Midtlien and Holton Sailer paced East Ridge. Kennedy turned in the top time for the Raptors, taking 12th place overall in 1 minute, 3.29 seconds. Midtlien was 14th overall in 1:03.68 and Sailer was 18th in 1:04.63. Like Del Toro and Bilbrey, Kennedy has been on the East Ridge team for four years. Midtlien and Sailer have been on the squad for the past three seasons.
Both Kennedy and Midtlien qualified for state as individuals as well.
"I just wanted all my teammates to finish and have solid runs," Kennedy said. "I was really happy with how everyone finished. Personally, I just didn't want to fall and wanted to put together two solid runs. I didn't have any bobbles and had two solid runs."
At the section meet, in addition to Kennedy, Midtlien and Sailer, Del Toro took 35th with a time of 1:09.63, Bilbrey was 43rd in 1:10.83 and junior Mike Youngstrom came in 46th with a time of 1:11.16.
"I like to think that our team is more than the sum of its parts," Del Toro said. "We have three really solid guys with Jack, Oliver and Holton -- they've come out the past two years and done insanely well -- they're some of the best skiers I've ever seen. But, it's more than just those three guys. It's our team as a whole and how it comes together. It's cooperation, not competition, that has made us stronger. We're there for each other. I think it's the unity that allowed us to perform so well in sections."
Midtlien praised Del Toro and Bilbrey for their leadership.
"Drew and Evan have been really good captains," Midtlien said. "They lead the team and cheer everyone on. I've learned from them how to cheer your teammates on and how to be a good teammate and not just worry about yourself. They're really good role models."
The past two years, the East Ridge girls alpine team has reached the state meet, but the boys team hasn't. Last year, Midtlien became the first Raptors boys downhill skier to reach state.
"I'm very excited," Midtlien said. "It's going to be a lot more fun this year. It was kind of awkward last year being the only guy with all the girls. This year I have a team to cheer on. It's a lot better."
Seipel said he believed seeing the success the East Ridge girls team had the last two years spurred the boys.
"It's definitely a motivation," he said. "They finally get some hardware now. It's not dominated by the ladies team. They thought they had a shot last year, but they totally stepped up this year and did an excellent job."
At state, Edina -- which claimed runner-up honors in 2012 -- is the highest returning qualifiers. Stillwater, which placed third in 2012, is the only other returning team. Individually, six top-10 finishers, including defending champion senior Jack Post of Eden Prairie, return to this year's state meet. The others are: senior Jack McNeill of The Blake School, who was runner-up; junior Taylor Lindy of Centennial, who took third; senior Michael Murray of Bloomington Jefferson, who was fifth; eighth-grader Louis Nguyen of Chanhassen, who was sixth; and junior Vy Nguyen of Chanhassen, who placed ninth.
The state meet will take place Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. The team and individual competitions are combined as a single event. The first runs are slated to begin at 10 a.m. and the second runs will start at 1 p.m.
"I'm telling the guys to push it," Midtlien said. "There's nothing after this, so we should just try to go as fast as we can and throw it all out there. This is it. If we all ski the way we skied at sections we can do really, really well at state."