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Top of the hill: Koprucki goes out with state championship win

East Ridge senior Elizabeth Koprucki won her first alpine skiing state championship title in her fourth state meet appearance on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.

Elizabeth Koprucki is leaving at the top of the mountain.

Koprucki, a senior at East Ridge High School, won her first alpine skiing state championship title in her fourth state meet appearance on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.

"It's really nice to go out my senior year with a win," Koprucki said. "I think that's pretty awesome."

In the two-heat race, Koprucki had a slim lead of five-hundredths of a second over defending state champion Megan Danelski of Hermantown after her first run with a time of 40.44 seconds. Koprucki then torched the course with her second run, crossing the finish line in 35.08 seconds for a total of 1 minute, 15.52 seconds - finishing almost two seconds faster than the second-place skier, Savannah Stone of Brainerd.

"She put two really great runs together today," head coach Kevin Seipel said. "It was a very legitimate win and just a great race. It was a perfect ending."

Koprucki said she laid it all on the line with her second run.

"I knew I only had a five-hundredths-of-a-second lead after my first run," she said. "With my second run I told myself I had to go for it. I left it all on the table."

Danelski - who Koprucki has said is her best friend - was disqualified on her second run for missing her final gate. Seipel said he felt Koprucki's time still would have been "about a half-second" faster than Danelski even if she hadn't been disqualified.

"As soon as she knew that I won she came up to me and said 'Good Job'," Koprucki said.

Seipel said the coaches didn't tell Koprucki that Danelski had disqualified until after her second run.

"We didn't tell her anything until the finish," Seipel said. "She had a mindset and she was going to go for it."

Koprucki said she thought Seipel's coaching strategy was a good one.

"That was definitely a good move, because I probably would've skied slower," she said. "I knew I had to go for it."

Koprucki, who started skiing on the hill in her front yard when she was 2 years old and was racing at Afton Alps when she was 6, has improved her standing at state each year over the past four years. She took 13th place as a freshman, sixth as a sophomore, second last year and first this year.

"Ever since I started skiing at the high school I knew I wanted to win it one year and it finally happened," Koprucki said. "A lot of very good skiers have won the Minnesota state championship. It feels really good to finally be in that club."

Koprucki led the Raptors girls to state the past two years. Last winter, the Raptors girls earn fifth place as a team. This year, however, East Ridge didn't reach state after taking third in the section meet behind first-place Minneapolis Southwest and second-place Stillwater. Koprucki finished second in last week's Section 4AA championship, behind Eagan's Sally Anderson. At state, Anderson finished in ninth place with a time of 1:19.13.

A team captain this year, Koprucki also skis in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) and FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) development programs year round. In the winter months, she trains at least four times a week for four hours a day between weekly competitions. Koprucki has made three trips to Colorado for FIS races in the past year - to Eldora, Aspen and Steamboat Springs and was recently in Canada at Loch Lomand, Ontario where she took sixth place in her age group against skiers from all over the country.

Next, Koprucki and Danelski each will travel to Ontario, Canada next week to ski in the under-18 Canadian national championship race with the FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) development program. They'll also be skiing in the United States under-18 nationals at Mammoth Mountain in California in March.

Koprucki is East Ridge's third individual state championship winner. Fellow 2013 graduates Jenna Karrow and Nate Roese are the others. Karrow won the 2010 diving state title. Roese is the reigning champion in the 400-meter dash.

Following the race, Koprucki thanked her coaches and supporters for helping her pull off the championship win.

"I really just wanted to represent the school," Koprucki said. "It was nerve-wracking today, but it was actually a lot of fun. We're like one big ski family up there."

Kennedy nabs all-state honor, East Ridge boys earn seventh

The East Ridge boys alpine skiing team finished in seventh place in its first-ever state meet. Led by an all-state performance by junior Oliver Kennedy, the Raptors earned 109 points to finish ahead of eighth-place Hermantown (78 points). The Blake School won the state title with 159 points, topping Stillwater (139 points).

"They didn't have a lot of big expectations," Seipel said. "We were only about 25 points out of third place. We could've been right up there. But, they're a young team and they're going to be good."

Kennedy led the way for East Ridge, taking 20th place overall with a time of 1:19.80 in the two-run race. Kennedy had a time of 40.6 in his first run and finished in 39.26 in his second run.

"He did a phenomenal job and is just skiing fantastic," Seipel said.

Bloomington Jefferson's Michael Murray won the individual state championship title with a time of 1:13.67.

In addition to Kennedy, East Ridge freshman Holton Sailer took 41st place with a time of 1:23.01 and fellow freshman Jack Midtlien took 48th place in his second state meet appearance with a time of 1:24.68. Also for the Raptors, senior Drew Del Toro placed 60th (1:29.71), junior Mike Youngstrom took 64th (1:31.35) and senior Evan Bilbrey placed 77th (1:58.12).

Seipel said the team had a lot of fun in Biwabik.

"We trained a little on Tuesday and went out and free skied and bonded," he said. "I think they'll all remember that even more than just the results. They're going to remember they had a great time."

The East Ridge boys team reached its first state meet after taking second place at the Section 4AA championship at Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls. East Ridge scored 477 points to cruise past third-place Minneapolis Southwest, which scored 451 points. Stillwater won the section meet with 513 points.

The team must say now say good-bye to longtime leaders Koprucki, Morgan Maxwell, Bilbrey and Del Toro, who were senior captains this season.

"All four of them were great captains," Seipel said. "Drew was the team captain the last four years and just a phenomenal leader. Morgan was the captain the past two years and probably did just as much coaching as she did skiing. She really helped the girls get to where they were at."

The PWER (Park, Woodbury, East Ridge) ski programs compete in the same meets and are coached by the same staff, but race as separate teams.

Seipel said he hopes the teams' success will help promote the sport and bring in more athletes to help replace the skiers they now lose to graduation.

"We are not looking necessarily for racers but young skiers and develop them into racers," Seipel said. "I know that sometimes kids see a successful program and think there isn't room for them but we have plenty of room for everyone on all of the teams."