One more run: East Ridge standout skier Koprucki shooting for state title
Elizabeth Koprucki started skiing on the hill in her front yard when she was 2 years old. From there, it's been all downhill. Koprucki, now a senior at East Ridge, is making one last run this season.
Koprucki has reached the state alpine meet three times for East Ridge individually and has led the Raptors girls to state the past two years. Last winter, Koprucki had her best finish, taking second place and helping the Raptors girls earn fifth place as a team.
"I'm just trying to live every race to the fullest that I can," Koprucki said of her final high school ski season.
A team captain this year, Koprucki also skis in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) and FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) development programs year round. In the winter months, she trains at least four times a week for four hours a day between weekly competitions. Koprucki has made three trips to Colorado for FIS races in the past year -- to Eldora, Aspen and Steamboat Springs, and was recently in Canada at Loch Lomand, Ontario where she took sixth place in her age group against skiers from all over the country.
"She's very intense," said Kevin Seipel, who coaches the East Ridge girls and boys, along with fellow District 833 teams Park and Woodbury. "She has a drive to want to win every time she goes out on the hill."
Koprucki hasn't lost a race in the Suburban East Conference since she was a sophomore. Only two conference foes have beat her -- 2012 Cretin-Derham Hall graduate Colleen Cass and 2010 Stillwater grad Carly McDowell.
In practice, Koprucki sometimes even races against the boys from East Ridge, Park and Woodbury and has only lost "a couple of times," according to Seipel.
"She makes everyone else around her try harder -- to want to beat her or to be like her -- the girls and guys both," Seipel said.
So far this year, Koprucki is 2-for-2 in the two meets she raced for East Ridge. After missing the Raptors' first meet of the year -- against Hill-Murray -- in order to ski in an FIS event, Koprucki returned to the usual top spot on the podium, taking first place with a time of 59.77 seconds. Then, in her first SEC meet of the season, Koprucki kept her winning streak alive in the conference, taking first place with a time of 57.99 seconds, beating Mounds View's Julia Damberg, who had a time of 58.81.
"It's exciting to watch her at practice and meets," Seipel said. "I know the kids get fired up about it too."
Seipel said Koprucki makes his job easier.
"As a coach you can only do so much instructing the kids, telling them how to do things," he said. "When they see her actually doing what we're talking about and seeing that it's possible, it makes them more able to do it."
Koprucki's mom, Bonnie, grew up skiing along with a number of her family members. Koprucki's dad, Mike, also picked it up when he was in his 20s. Koprucki said her mom and dad would bundle up her and her brother, Mike, Jr. - a 2010 Woodbury grad - and shuffle them off to Afton Alps when they were very young.
"I learned to ski (at Afton Alps) way over on the meadows on hill 10," Koprucki said. "There are still pictures of me here in a harness."
Koprucki started racing at the age of 6 for the Afton Alps D-Team, development program. She moved up the ranks at Afton Alps, joining the Associate Program - designed for ski racers who want to increase their training opportunities, but who aren't yet ready to compete in USSA races - as a J5 skier at age 11.
Koprucki, who also plays soccer in the summer and fall, said she always took skiing very seriously.
"I'm a very competitive person," she said. "I've wanted to be on top of my game all the time ever since I was little."
Koprucki said she'd like to ski in college. She's looking at schools out west like the University of Colorado in Boulder, Denver University and Montana State, along with schools like St. Olaf, where she believes she could continue to ski and play soccer.
"I would love to ski in college, I think that'd be really awesome," she said. "But, I'm waiting until the season is done to make any decisions on where I want to go."
One of Koprucki's foes growing up was Hermantown senior Megan Danelski, who beat her for the state championship last year by a little more than a second in the two-race meet. Koprucki said skiing has helped her and Danelski become close friends.
"We've been competing against each other since we were 7 years old," Koprucki said. "We're best friends. It's a very healthy competition. There's a lot of back and forth. We'll see who gets it this year."
However, more important to Koprucki than an individual title, she said, is how her team fares. The East Ridge girls have reached the state meet the past two seasons. There are 23 teams in East Ridge's section. The top two teams from the section qualify for the state meet.
The past two years the Raptors have placed second in the section race. In 2011, East Ridge finished second behind Minnehaha Academy - knocking out Stillwater, which had reached the state meet 25-straight years. Last winter, the Raptors finished behind Minneapolis Southwest in the section competition, with Stillwater outside looking in once again.
"We definitely want to go to state as a team," said Koprucki, who took 13th in state as a freshman and sixth as a sophomore, said. "The team comes first. I think it'd be great to place in the top three as a team. As an individual, I'd love to take the No. 1 spot. If I place well, though, the team does well too."
Seipel said a third-straight trip to the state meet "would be huge."
"The girls are skiing incredible as a team this year," he said. "We're really looking forward to the section race. If they can keep together as a group and not focus on the individual stuff then everything should work out great in the end."
With Koprucki graduating this spring, it's an important year for the Raptors girls.
"Yes, this is a big year for us," he said. "But, we also have a lot of 10th graders that are doing well for us and the future looks good. We'll rebuild again after this year and hopefully stay competitive. It'll be tough without her, but we have a lot of girls that could step up."