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2011-12 Winter Preview: Nordic skiers heading in new direction in 2011-12

East Ridge senior Hieu Nguyen is the team captain for the Raptors Nordic team this year.

The East Ridge, Park and Woodbury Nordic ski teams are under new management for the 2011-12 season.

Joe Wacker, a 2007 Park graduate, is the new head coach of the three cross country skiing teams in District 833. The East Ridge, Park and Woodbury teams practice together, compete in identical races and are administrated by the same staff, but race as individual high schools.

Wacker, 22, is the fourth coach of the Nordic program in District 833. Wacker replaced Will Stoltz, who served as the head coach for the past two seasons after taking over the program from longtime head coach James Kyes, who stepped down as after the 2008-09 season in order to move to Duluth. Park Athletic Hall of Fame entrant Jerome Detviler was the program's first coach.

Wacker skied for Kyes at Park - and then at St. Scholastica, where Kyes was an assistant coach.

Wacker said his initial goal is to have bigger teams and generate more excitement.

"We have a handful of kids that have a shot of possibly qualifying for state as individuals this year," Wacker said. "It's going to be much more competitive this year than last year. We have a lot of new promising young talent."

The main departure from last year's ski teams was Tom Drtina, a 2011 East Ridge graduate, who was the program's lone state qualifier last season. At state, Drtina took 96th place out of 119 skiers with a pursuit time of 34:08.6. It was his second-straight appearance at state.

Team captains this year will be Hieu Nguyen for East Ridge, Sara Manship for Park and Danielle Belisle for Woodbury. In addition to those skiers, East Ridge will be led by Erik Jorgenson, Erik Pakala, Melanie Rabino and Hannah Storm, while Park will be led by Annie Lisson and Alexandra Flipovich and Woodbury will be led by Lars Espe and Erika Storvick.

As far as competition goes, the Raptors, Wolfpack and Royals will be chasing down the usual suspects - Stillwater, Roseville and Forest Lake - this winter.

The teams' first competition will be Tuesday, Dec. 13, at Les Bolstad Golf Course.