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Aiming for improvement leads to state titles for Alpine skiing champs

BIWABIK, MINN. - In retrospect, Anthony Petkov's plan for his first hill proved modest. The Irondale senior wanted a nice, solid run to the bottom of the Innsbruck course, improving on last year, when he wiped out on his first shot at the Alpine skiing state meet.

Petkov bettered that — winning the boys individual title on a bright, 27-degree Tuesday at Giants Ridge. His combined total for two runs on the grainy, sugary snow was 1 minute, 15.69 seconds, nearly a second better than runner-up Cash Jaeger (1:16.63) of Stillwater. Vivien Pihlstrom of Blake won the girls title, improving on last year's third-place finish and matching her older sister Ava Pihlstrom, who won it in 2021. She had already told her sister by the time she received her medal at the awards ceremony.

The Alpine races, the first event of three days of skiing at Giants Ridge, marked the start of the winter season for the high school state championships.

Petkov's plan for his first run, down the Helsinki hill, was to be strong and stable, ski hard on the parts he knows well beyond a delayed hairpin turn. He finished his race and settled into the crowd just in time to see Hastings' Jackson Reents, who had the best time going into the second run, make a last-second bumble that knocked him out of contention.

"It was such a bummer," said Petkov, who added he had been competing for years with Reents and Jaeger.

Irondale coach Erik Saari described Petkov's skiing as "sheer power" with the ability to keep his upper body quiet, move only his legs and let his skis do the work. Petkov won four meets this season against Suburban East Conference teams, in addition to the Section 5 meet. He also skis with Team Gilboa and, as a dual citizen, the Belgian Ski Federation.

Pihlstrom, who had the fastest time going into the second run, overestimated small errors she made en route to the finish. She was still tabulating her times at the bottom of Helsinki when she got the news of her win from a teammate.

"I feel awesome," said Pihlstrom, who is also a figure skater and lacrosse player.

Pihlstrom finished in 1:20.66, ahead of Eagan's Courtney Bumpers (1:21.42), who improved on a 12th-place finish in 2023. Bumpers credited a shift in thinking at the start of this season.

"I wanted to work hard," she said.

She was able to watch Pihlstrom's second run and raved.

"She's a phenomenal skier," Bumpers said.

The Minnetonka girls team won for the third year in a row, led by third-place finisher Charlotte Kinzer (1:21.67). Minneapolis Washburn won the boys title, led by Finn Cherveny (1:19.99). Minnetonka and Hill-Murray tied for second place.

Nordic skiing starts Wednesday with individual pursuit, and the sprint relays are scheduled for Thursday.