The North Dakota National Guard (NDNG) brought its largest team yet to the Central Region Biathlon Competition last week. Twelve soldiers and airmen competed against their counterparts from 12 other states Jan. 24-27 at Camp Ripley, Minn. For the fourth straight year, the North Dakota National Guard team came out on top, winning the competition.
Team members included Master Sgt. Kent Pulst and his son Sgt. Brandon Pulst, both of Penn, N.D.
North Dakota biathletes took the top two spots in both men's races and the first and third spots in both women's races. Once again, first-time biathletes rose to the top, as well, winning the women's novice title and taking second in the men's novice category.
"The North Dakota National Guard Biathlon Team is a product of excellence and commitment," said Col. David Skalicky, who coaches the team. "Our biathletes have actively recruited top talent from the North Dakota National Guard to create a nationally recognized program. We have yet to develop an Olympic biathlete, but the future looks bright! I am extremely pleased with the effort of our athletes and look forward to competing for the national title at the end of February."
1st Lt. Blake Hillerson won both men's races during the regional competition - the 10-kilometer sprint race and 12.5-kilometer pursuit - and Maj. Eric Nordgren placed second in both races. Hillerson lives in St. Paul and serves in the North Dakota Army National Guard's 426th Signal Network Support Company, and Nordgren, of Pelican Rapids, Minn., serves with the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing. Both men have qualified multiple times for the national-level team and competed around the world.
"I didn't feel like I had anything extra today," Hillerson said of giving his all in the sprint race. His training lately has been focusing on bigger races, including the 50-kilometer American Birkebeiner, he said, as well as the Guard's national biathlon competition.
Tech. Sgt. Danelle Card, of Hawley, Minn. - last year's novice winner - showed what a year of honing her skills could do, winning both of her races. Card led the women competitors with her first-place finish in both the 7.5-kilometer sprint race and 10-kilometer pursuit race. Maj. Micaela Brancato, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., placed third in both races. Both women serve in the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing.
"It felt good," Card said after her race Friday, and expressed optimism in recovering well for Saturday's race. She was interrupted by another biathlete she competed with on the course who exclaimed, "You should've seen her attack that hill!"
The sprint course featured 301 meters of total climb, which is especially challenging on skis.
The team's newest members also did well, with Brancato winning the women's novice category and Lt. Col. Mitch Johnson, of Fargo, taking second in the men's novice category. The category is limited to first-year competitors. Both novices serve in the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing.
Page 2 of 2 - Other North Dakota National Guard biathletes helping the team to its fourth straight win include Sgt. Adam Walsvik, of Hazen, N.D.; Retired Lt. Col. Jon Wutzke, of Fargo; Sgt. Jordan Becker, of Grand Forks, N.D.; and Spc. Kellie Lindberg, of Fargo.