Alpine skiing: EL boys confident ahead of state championship

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AUBURN — Confidence is in great supply on the Edward Little alpine skiing team.

The Red Eddies, who are two years removed from their alpine state title in 2016, are looking to bounce back after not bringing home hardware last season and bring a championship back to Edward Little. Everyone on the alpine team, from head coach Jodd Bowles to top skier Maxx Bell, knows that they will be ready this time around.

“We are a lot more aggressive and there’s no one really intimidating us,” Bell said. “We know that if we ski our best, then no one else can top that.”

Bell, a senior, has led Edward Little all season, winning the KVAC giant slalom race, a fourth-place finish in the slalom and was the top skier for the Eddies in their KVAC boys’ title win this season. Bell is one of three seniors that have been skiing together for years at a high level.

Senior Kyle Mooney has been skiing since sixth grade and has been by Bell’s side his whole career. Both Mooney and Bell have come up through the Auburn school system and also ski for the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. Mooney finished second in the giant slalom race at KVACs and earned a fifth-place in the slalom event. Mere seconds has separated Bell and Mooney all season.

“I’ve always been chasing Maxx and I’ve always wanted to beat him,” Mooney said. “It’s always been one of the goals. During practice it’s contests all the time. It’s good to have him on the team to know there will always be someone better that you have to beat so you can’t settle for what you’ve already accomplished.”

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The in-house competition is key for Bowles, who thinks this year’s team is one of the tightest teams he’s had in 31 years of coaching.

“Healthy competition is good,” Bowles said. “I mean, they all want to beat each other, but if someone goes down they say ‘no, I want to beat them straight up.’ That competition is good and it’s raised the bar.”

The third member of the “Three Amigos,” a term used around the team for the three seniors, is Connor Jackson, who had two top-eight finishes at KVACs. Jackson recognized this season that a sense of relaxation helped him take the next step.

“I thought in past years I took things a little too seriously, to where I over-thought things,” Jackson said. “I figured I’d go into it and have fun and just ski. I think it allowed me to ski the course and ski faster than I would if I worried about it.”

All three seniors realized that things needed to change after their disappointing eighth-place finish at Class A states a year ago. Much of the success that has come from Edward Little in 2018 is the result of a tight-knit atmosphere.

“When everyone has the same goal it’s pretty hard to stop that momentum that we have been building up this whole season,” Bell said. “It’s nice to have a team that is always pushing each other. We are all going fast, so it’s good to know and good to have. Our mindset is a lot stronger and that makes the biggest difference … It’s more of a family than a team.”

Assistant coach Jim Jackson, father of Connor, has taken notice of the change in camaraderie.

“Junior year they all went their own ways and figured out it didn’t work,” Jim Jackson said. “This year they’re all together and it’s working. I think sophomore year surprised everybody because they didn’t know how good they were. Jodd and I believed how good they were, but this year they are definitely all together.”

Edward Little’s biggest competitors in Bowles’ eyes are Falmouth and Mt. Blue. The Cougars swept one-through-three in the slalom race at KVACs, with Edward Little directly behind them at four-through six. Mt. Blue also had three finishers in the top 12 in the giant slalom race.

Bowles is aware that if the Eddies falter that the title can slip from their grasp. Failure isn’t in the minds of any Edward Little skiers, however, as the mentality of the Eddies has also gotten stronger this year.

“We have spent a lot of time over the last four years working on making sure we can ski well in our brains and have executed that pretty consistently through the year,” Bowles said. “There’s been fouls here and there, some tough nights, but as a whole we are pretty good at that. Our heads are right.”

Mooney has seen the mentality change throughout the team, as well.

“We are more mature and we know how far we can push it before we are over the line,” Mooney said. “We are stronger, both mentally and physically.”

Edward Little has 18 boys on the team, with many skiers contributing to the team success this season. Leighton Girardin finished in the top 12 in both races at KVACs this season as a junior, while junior Christian Beliveau had two top-15 finishes.

The alpine team got a boost two weeks ago when Bowles was able to get his team a timing system for practices, something no other high school has, according to the coach. This has made for more competitive practices within the team and it’s only driving the team’s confidence.

“KVACs and states were the goal,” Bell said. “We knew from the end of last year that we had the best team in the state, it was just a matter of how hard we worked and how much effort we put in. We put in a lot of work this offseason, more than we have the last four years … If they’re at their best and we are at our best then no one can beat us, it’s that simple.”

Bowles’ approach to states is pretty simple. Do what you know how to do.

“Bring it hard,” Bowles said. “Don’t go mental, lay down good runs and no one’s gonna touch us.”

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