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Three skiers, one coach end Park Nordic career at state meet

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Park head Nordic skiing coach James Kyes was hoping for something amazing at the state meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik -- the last meet for the three Park skiers at state and Kyes' last meet as coach of the Wolfpack.

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However, there was no last-meet magic to be had, as each fell short of a top-20 finish and All-State honors in their final meets.

The Wolfpack's Joe Snyder finished 43rd in the boys race and Nicole Westphal and Sarah Meemken finished 32nd and 89th, respectively in the girls race.

Kyes felt all three finished right about where they should have in the state meet.

"It was kind of anticlimactically normal," Kyes said. "Every year you have good races, bad races and medium races. Each of them did fine. There is nothing to be ashamed of for sure. I know each of them wanted to do better, but hey, they did well."

Each skier improved their time from last year's state meet. Last year, Westphal earned All-State, finishing 18th overall with a time of 38:57 in the pursuit-style race. This year her time was 37:49. Meemken's time of 40:16.8 was nearly four minutes better than her time of 44:16.3, which earned her 102nd place last season. Snyder had a time of 32:30.4 this year compared to his time of 35:05 last year.

In the pursuit-style race, the meet is actually broken into two races -- a "classic" race in the morning and a "skate" race in the afternoon. Starting points for the second race are based on each individual skier's finish from the morning race. The person who finishes with the best time in the first race is the first one on the course in the second race, getting literally, a "head start" equivalent to the amount of time they won the first race by, leaving everyone else to try and physically catch up to them.

In a field as competitive as the state meet, the slightest thing in either race can shoot a skier up or send them tumbling down the standings.

In the boys race, Snyder's time was less than 48 seconds off the final All-State time, while Westphal was just over 55 seconds back of an All-State finish.

"At the section race 30 seconds might be a place or two," Kyes said. "Here, 30 seconds can be 40 places. At this high of a level, this is phenomenal skiing. If Nicole and Joe would have been 30 seconds faster in each race, they would have each finished in 17th place. I think they're all stronger classic-style skiers. So, I think when they got back from the classic race they all said, 'well shoot.' But, I'm proud of them. They skied well."

In the boys race, Forest Lake claimed its second consecutive team title and its fourth in five years. The Rangers finished with 380 points and had two skiers in the top 10 overall. Senior Ryan Wright placed third and junior Steve Coozennoy was sixth. In addition to last year, the Rangers also won titles in 2005 and 2006.

The Hopkins Royals, which did not compete in the 2008 state meet, took runner-up honors with 362 points, and the Duluth East Greyhounds improved one place from last year to finish third with 355 points.

Erik Fagerstrom, a senior from Eden Prairie, improved on last year's sixth-place showing and claimed top honors in the individual competition. Fagerstrom was the top skier heading into the classical race after completing the freestyle event in 15:48.2. His final pursuit time was 29:51.8.

In the girls race, Burnsville won its first-ever team championship with 378.5 points. The Blaze placed three skiers in the top 10 finishers: sophomore Sharmila Ahmed, third; senior Sarah Daniels, fifth; and senior Maria Tinebra, eighth. Last year, Burnsville earned runner-up honors.

Minneapolis Southwest earned second-place honors with 360 points, and Roseville Area was third with 359 points.

Junior Annie Hart of St. Paul Academy capitalized on her strong showing in the classical race and went on to win her first pursuit title with a time of 34:51.6. Hart was the leader heading into the freestyle race after completing her classical race with a time of 18:48.6. The win was an improvement for Hart, who placed ninth overall at last year's state meet.

Lynn Duijndam, a senior at Roseville, was second in the pursuit event with a combined time of 35:10.8.

The two-time defending state champions -- Joe Dubay of Andover and Jessie Diggins of Stillwater -- did not compete in the state meet this year. Dubay is training in Finland and Diggins was competing in the World Junior Championships in France.

"There are so many good skiers in Minnesota right now," Kyes said. "A little bit here and there can make a huge difference."

After 11 years of leading both the Royals and Wolfpack, Kyes -- a 1992 graduate of Woodbury -- will now be stepping down as head coach in order to move to Duluth.

In 10 of his 11 years, Park has had at least one skier compete at the state meet.

At this year's state meet, Kyes was able to get out on the course and watch both the girls and boys pursuit races.

"It was really cool to be out there and to watch things," Kyes. "I think everyone wants to finish on a bang. But, no matter how much you want to finish on a bang, I think that was probably about as appropriate as it gets."

Notables:

-- Nicole Westphal, sr., (20:16 classic, 17:33.9 freestyle) 37:49.9 overall, 32nd place.

-- Sarah Meemken, sr. (22:26-17:50.8) 40:16.8, 89th place.

-- Joe Snyder, sr. (17:20-15:10.4) 32:30.4, 43rd place.

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