Local residents may be rejoicing about the milder than normal winter weather, but don’t tell that to Richfield High School Nordic skiing head coach Steve Mills. The lack of snow has made it difficult for the Spartans to train and compete with real snow this season.
Richfield Patch caught up with Mills to talk about the difficulties in dealing without snow and his expectations for the rest of the season.
Richfield Patch: You have coached for nine years. Has this been the worst winter in terms of being able to compete the way you want to?
Coach Steve Mills: Yes. It has been the worst conditions to ski on, however, it has been the best group of kids. The energy and the personalities and the leadership have been just tremendous. It is amazing. It’s really unfortunate that the two came side by side.
Richfield Patch: So if the skiers are unable to practice on snow, what have they been doing to train?
Coach Mills: We have been on the football field playing soccer and trying to keep them fresh. We run with poles and we try to build in as much variety [as possible]. We’ve done tug of war, ultimate frisbee. We’re not killing them because they will burn out without snow.
Richfield Patch: What is your reaction when you hear 50 degrees and sunny?
Coach Mills: It's depressing, to be honest. If you look at it holistically, the ground needs water, the trees need water. It’s more than just skiing. I am an outdoors enthusiast, so I look at this as being problematic for the whole balance of everything. …[And from a skiing perspective], the idea of making really concrete plans is kind of ridiculous. …We set up a schedule at the beginning of the year and it completely goes downhill, … planning has devolved into a two-day window.
Richfield Patch: Richfield hasn’t ever held a meet. Were there plans in place to change that before a mild winter set in?
Coach Mills: We have been working really hard in Richfield to get a place where we can actually hold a meet. [We were going to have a chance to host one at Augsburg Park this season, but] it didn’t snow. … We have a two and a half kilometer course ready to go as soon as we get snow. We have a groomer, a snowmobile and a budget. We can actually host as race for the first time in history, if the snow comes.
Richfield Patch: It must be frustrating to finally get the chance to host a meet and not have any snow.
Coach Mills: Yes. Like anything else, you ride on momentum and enthusiasm. Nordic skiers are a tough breed and it takes a lot to get them down, so people have been just biting their tongues. We had such a great year last year. Not just with our results, but with the conditions. We got the early snow that stayed all winter long. We never had a brown spot. It is a tough winter to compare it to.
Richfield Patch: Regardless of the weather, your team has the Classic Suburban Conference championship coming up soon. Who do you think the team to beat is?
Coach Mills: Mahtomedi. They are just a powerhouse. They are just unbelievable. They will take it both from the girl’s and the boy’s. They’ll win both. They are just too strong.
Richfield Patch: What are your goals team-wise in the conference meet?
Coach Mills: We would like to give Mahtomedi a run. We are going to try to scare them. We are in second for the boy’s and we only lost to Mahtomedi by ten points, so if we put together the race of our lives and something goes wrong for Mahtomedi at any level, we can take them, but it has to be our day to make that happen. On the girl’s side, they’ll probably finish in the middle. They want to finish second or third and that is their goal.
Richfield Patch: Who are some athletes to watch?
Coach Mills: For the girls, Sarah Nygaard. She’s the captain and she is phenomenal. I don’t want to jinx her, but she is hopefully going to go into some postseason competition. It is going to be tough, but she is shooting for it. The other captain is Erica Strom. She is working hard. Beyond that, every week somebody surfaces and we go pretty deep. [For the boys], Nelson Soto Moreno is our captain and he is a good skier. Jake Bauer is a rocket also. He is someone to watch.
With cold weather and snow in the forecast, Mills and his team of skiers are keeping their fingers crossed.