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Stoltz takes reigns of Nordic ski program

Green to coaching when last year's Nordic ski season started, then first-year assistant Will Stoltz didn't really know what to expect.

But, by the time the year ended he knew what he wanted to do.

Stoltz, 25, will be the head Nordic coach for the Park, East Ridge and Woodbury programs this year.

"I kind of fell in love with (coaching)," Stoltz said. "At the end of the season I was excited and looking forward to taking on the challenge of being a head coach."

Stoltz has skied competitively for 13 years, including seven years with the United States National Guard.

"I love Nordic skiing," Stoltz said. "It's a passion of mine. Just to be able to spread the enjoyment I've received from the sport to a great group of kids is the draw for me."

As the youthful Stoltz takes over as head coach for the three Nordic skiing programs in south Washington County, he'll certainly have a lot of experience to fall back on.

Aiding Stoltz this season will be Bill Ebertz, co-head coach of Woodbury girls soccer team and assistant track coach for the Roayls, as an assistant Nordic coach this year. In addition, Stoltz' predecessor James Kyes is just a phone call away.

"When coaches put their heart and soul into a program for the number of years Jim did, it's not easy to step away," Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said. "Jim is still a sounding board for Will and myself when either of us have questions. He's very willing to help us out. I know Will is still taking advantage of Jim's expertise, knowledge and experience."

After 11 years of leading both the Royals and Wolfpack, Kyes -- a 1992 graduate of Woodbury -- stepped down as head coach after last season in order to move to Duluth with his family.

Stoltz was the Nordic program's assistant coach for one year under Kyes, just as Kyes was under his predecessor Jerome Detweiler.

Kuemmel said he is certain Stoltz will do, " a phenomenal job" in replacing Kyes.

"It's definitely hard to fill Jim's shoes," Kuemmel said. "But, the good thing is that Will was able to work with Jim last year. Obviously Will is going to be his own coach, but he will also take a lot of what he learned from Jim last year and will incorporate that this year."

Although Kuemmel and Stoltz would like to bring on one more assistant coach, they are excited about what Ebertz will bring to the program.

"From a coaching standpoint that gives Will a person who has a lot of experience on just how to coach kids -- that will help tremendously," Kuemmel said. "Also, Bill's connection with the athletes at Woodbury should help the recruitment process as well."

There won't be any change in the structure of Nordic skiing in south Washington County this season with the addition of East Ridge to the mix.

The three schools will train together and take part in the same meets, but will compete as separate programs at those events -- just as in the past -- meaning Stoltz basically becomes the head coach of six different teams.

"There's definitely challenges with trying to coordinate everything," Stoltz said. "But, I think it adds an interesting dynamic. There are six separate teams, but you'll have athletes finish a race and cheer on a competitor. It's interesting to see that competitive side of things. I think it's pretty cool that the friendships form between the schools. You have friends from Park, East Ridge and Woodbury, where in reality the schools could be rivals because they're so close to each other."

Kuemmel said the idea of a cooperative has been kicked around in the past, but that staying the current course is a better option.

"I know a concern that a lot of the parents have is numbers and if we should be co-oping as one district team." Kuemmel said. "But, with the size of the schools we have and the sort of individual nature of the sport of Nordic, we're going to go continue going forward with what we've been doing."

Stoltz, a 2003 graduate of Mahtomedi, first skied in 1999 for the Zephyrs under head coach Greg Weir -- who Stoltz said he considers a mentor.

After graduation Stoltz joined the National Guard and took part in the biathlon -- a race where contestants ski around a cross-country track in addition to stopping at stations for target shooting with a rifle.

"It's led me all over the world and our country and allowed me to race competitively in Europe and South America and pretty much anywhere in the states that there is a race," Stoltz said, adding that Nordic skiing is somewhat an individual sport. "It's you and the clock and how far and fast you can push yourself. There's other people in the races obviously, but it solely comes down to you. I fell in love with that."