Ben Saxton of Lakeville North
Lakeville North senior Ben Saxton doesn't like trailing in a race. Saxton knows how to cope with it, though, if he does fall behind.
The past two years, Saxton has used excellent 5K classical races to finish second and first in the Nordic state ski meet at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn. He is favored to defend his title in this year's event, which will be held Thursday.
"It's never fun being behind. That's not a good feeling," Saxton said. "I've been in that situation enough though that I know how to handle it with composure."
Last year Saxton entered the 5K classical portion of the race in fifth place. He finished with a winning pursuit time of 29:05.7, nearly 9 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
"Last year was awesome," Saxton said.
In his sophomore season, he was in the seventh spot.
"I'm not going into this year thinking of it as trying to defend my state title,'' he said. "I'll be satisfied if I race to the level I'm capable of."
Saxton, like all skiers, has found it much more difficult to prepare for the state meet this winter due to the lack of snow.
"This winter has made things difficult," Saxton said. "I have to drive an hour each way to get to snow. It makes for a long day, but everybody is doing it."
Saxton even made the trek up to Giants Ridge the first weekend in February.
"The course was fantastic," Saxton said. "It was the best snow I've skied on all year.
"The state meet was a special scenario [warm] last year. It was unique. I wouldn't expect anything less this year. It's just going to be a different set of circumstances."
Duluth East is back to defend its boys' and girls' team championships as well. Wayzata sophomore Alayna Sonnesyn is favored in the girls' race, returning from a year ago when she was the runner-up.
Two new individual champions will be crowned Wednesday as both of last year's medalists graduated. Junior Jack McNeill of Blake, who finished eighth in 2011, is the top returnee in the boys' race. Megan Danelski of Hermantown, who took third in 2011, is the top returnees for the girls.
Minnetonka returns to defends its girls' team championship. The boys' defending state champion, St. Thomas Academy, didn't qualify for this year's meet.