ELY — After taking 61st at the 2019 State Nordic Ski Meet as an eighth grader, Ely’s Zoe Devine made it a goal to compete at state once again in 2020.
It’s safe to say Devine blew that goal out of the water this year. The young Nordic skier capped off her second straight trip with a 12th place finish, enough to earn All-State honors this season and lead the Timberwolves girls to a ninth place team finish.
For her efforts this season, Devine has been named the All-Iron Range Girls’ Nordic Skier of the Year by the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald-Review.
What exactly caused the big jump? Devine says it was a multitude of factors.
“This year I participated in every single day of summer training,” Devine said at Ely High School on Tuesday. “I wanted to be a strong part of this team. Also I’m a year older and the extra training just helped make my body stronger.
Going to state as a team also helped I think. I really had a lot more fun this year with the team compared to last year when I just went by myself.”
Devine’s coach, Paula Anderson, agreed with her athlete, saying young athletes can change and improve rapidly.
“I think a lot of it was maturity and really growing as an athlete as far as how she handles pressure and staying focused,” Anderson said. “She did a really good job there. For her, it was a huge surprise to finish so high but that happens in high school.
“You just never know. Kids are growing and changing every year and sometimes it’s like you have a totally new athlete. It’s not the same person from the year before. Sometimes these big jumps just happen and that was really great to see from her.”
In addition, Devine is a great athlete to coach, according to Anderson.
“She’s just very receptive. She does everything you ask of her and she stays positive. She’s very easy to have on the team and very easy to coach.”
Anderson also said Devine’s success started snowballing late in the season when the team started participating in more pursuit-style races. “She really liked the pursuit races and she has a lot of endurance so that really favors her. We don’t pursuit until near the end of the season so we started seeing her making these big improvements right at the end. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think anyone really knows what Zoe can do,’ and I don’t think she even knew it herself.”
Skiing since she was preschool age or younger, Devine says she’s been surrounded by the sport for as long as she can remember and attributes that to some of her success.
“I started in preschool or maybe even before that when my parents took me out skiing,” Devine said. “I started with the community ski program MYSL (Minnesota Youth Ski League). Every Sunday during the winter I was out there but I would go and ski on my own as well. Now I go out there and help out with the young kids every weekend.”
In addition to skiing from a young age, Devine says she benefits from living in a town like Ely where skiing is a big part of the community.
“It’s nice to be part of a dedicated skiing town. So many people in this community support skiing and support the athletes out there.”
The freshman also competes in cross country running and track and field, where she specializes in distance events. Drawn to the endurance sports, Devine excels when she can use long races to get into the right head space.
“When I start racing, I just get into the zone and tune things out. When you have long distances, you can do that. I find it easier to enjoy, especially with skiing. You’re out in the woods and there’s not a lot of people around to watch you and you just do it all by yourself.”
The Ely girls’ Nordic ski team advanced to state as the Section 7 runners-up. Finishing in a virtual tie for second with Mesabi East, the Wolves advanced thanks to a tiebreaker in their favor. Devine and her coaches knew the team advancing was a long shot, which made it even better in the end.
“That was a big piece for Zoe’s success too,” Anderson said. “For all of our girls, it was huge. I have athletes that’ve said it’s 10 times more fun to go as a team and it’s easier because you have everyone there with you. It was definitely a goal for these girls and they knew it would be tough but they pulled it out.”
Making such a big jump as only a freshman, Devine says she feels some pressure but is ready to brush it off.
“There is kind of a lot of pressure with this but I just let it all go behind me and try to have fun with my friends and the other skiers, especially the seniors. They’re graduating, which is sad, so I just try to make the most out of every meet and have fun while doing it.”
It’s not all fun, however, as Devine says she makes a point to ask anybody and everybody for tips while out on the trail.
“I’ve become a lot closer with a lot of people on the team and with people from other teams too. Whenever I can, I’m asking them for advice while we’re skiing the course so I can learn from their experiences too.”
Her coach believes the improvements will keep coming if she keeps up her training, but the improvements will come in smaller doses as she gets older.
“In skiing, you just creep up slowly,” Anderson said. “For her, it’s just doing all the little things you do year-round to be a better athlete and she does those things. She’s in three sports and she’ll be continuously training throughout the year and into the summer. Her commitment to summer training is essential and then she’ll run cross country which sets her up really well for the winter.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing is my advice to her and we’ll get a little bit better every year. But she got a lot better this year so the increments will be harder from here on out. It’ll be slow and steady now.”
Devine gives credit to her coaches for her great strides this year and looks forward to what the next three years has in store.
“The coaches are really important. They help us so much with anything at practice and even outside of practice with things like school work. They’re there for us when we need them.
“I’m excited to get back into the summer training. That was a great way to see everyone on the team that you wouldn’t normally see on a regular basis until ski season. It’s just another thing to look forward to.”
In addition to Devine, the All-Iron Range Girls’ Nordic Ski Team is as follows: From Ely: Brooke Pasmick, Cedar Ohlhauser, Phoebe Helms, Kalyssa Eilrich, Julia Schwinghamer, Ana Bercher; from Mesabi East: Lydia Skelton, Anna Greenlee, Bella Thomas; From Grand Rapids: Elsa Viren.