RUMFORD — Their demographics couldn’t be more different, but the Mountain Valley High School alpine ski teams share the same state championship aspirations.
Seventeen boys have spent the winter competing for six spots in the Class C meet that unfolds Thursday and Friday at Sunday River in Newry.
More than half are freshmen. That only seems like a limitation until you discover that most of them were carving up their home hill, Black Mountain of Maine, not long after they could walk.
“I’ve skied since I was four years old,” Andrew Arsenault said. “We’re all good friends. We all grew up skiing together. There’s a great team bond.”
Only five girls leave the starting gate for the Falcons, one more than the minimum number required to score team championship points.
That doesn’t sound like much margin for error, either, until it’s revealed that three are seniors. Or that Katie Collette and Sarah Klein went one-two in the Class C giant slalom a year ago.
“It’s exciting, but it’s sad, too, knowing that it’s the last meet together for most of us,” Collette said.
They’ve taken different paths, but the Mountain Valley squads are on the same track.
The Falcons won both divisions at the Mountain Valley Conference meet two weeks ago, and both the boys and girls are considered the team best equipped to deny Fort Kent another state sweep.
“That’s definitely the goal,” said Nate Nicols, Mountain Valley’s first-year coach. “Now it’s more of a mental game. We need to stay mentally focused for two days, have that tunnel vision, forget about everything around us and just go ski the way we can.”
Nicols might have a more keen first-hand understanding of those physical and psychological challenges that many of his coaching colleagues.
Only two years ago, he competed in the state meet for Mountain Valley. Nicols succeeded Seth Fournier as the Falcons’ coach in November. He was 19.
“I’ve had a lot of different coaches through the year,” Nicols said. “I’ve learned a lot from all of them and tried to take the best of everything and put it together.”
The Falcons’ talent pool has made it a fun task.
Third in the state meet in 2013, the boys already had a strong veteran nucleus, led by senior Lance Richard, junior Chris Bourret and sophomore J.T. Greene.
Then came the parade of freshmen. Nick Newman was MVC champion in giant slalom, followed closely by Arsenault in third. Nate Legere and Arsenault ran fourth and fifth in slalom.
“It was really hard to believe at first, my first MVC race ever that I went out and won it,” Newman said.
“That was awesome,” Arsenault added. “We’ll definitely build off that going into states.”
Most of the newcomers were groomed through Black Mountain’s weekend alpine program.
Meeting every Saturday from December through March and taught by Nicols, legendary coach Tim LaVallee of Winthrop and Mark Thibodeau, the group learns everything from course set-up to mental preparation, with hours of skiing time by the dozen.
“It helps so much,” Newman said. “We get a lot of time on skis.”
For the boys, the toughest competition of the season probably wasn’t MVCs, or any of the smaller mid-week meets that unfold at Black Mountain, Sunday River or Titcomb Mountain.
The real stress was the day-in, day-out competition to move up the ladder and secure a spot on the state meet roster.
“They really push hard in practice,” Nicols said. “They all want to race.”
There’s no such internal rivalry on the girls’ side, but that hasn’t stopped the Falcons from staying sharp.
Klein was runner-up in both disciplines at the MVC meet. Collette captured third in GS and fourth in slalom.
“We haven’t really thought much about it,” Nicols said of the conference success. “It’s like a big win in football. You have to put it behind you and move on to the next game.
Mountain Valley also has received a boost from Ellie Hall, who made the transition from basketball to skiing as a junior in 2013.
“I grew up at Black Mountain and always skied, so I wanted to try racing,” Hall said. “I’ve learned so much. I learn something new every day.”
The Falcons held their final practice on Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday was devoted to rest and a team dinner.
Unlike last year, when Mountain Valley was competing at Fort Kent’s Big Rock facility, it’s a short trip across Route 2 to Sunday River in the morning.
“For some of the kids, this is the biggest race they’ve ever been in,” Nicols said. “My goal is to get them mentally prepared for it. Right now it’s about quality instead of quantity.”
And the Falcons flaunt both, those drastic extremes in depth and age aside.
“I think it’s going to be a close one,” Collette said, “but we definitely believe we can do it.”
Alpine Skiing State Championships
When: Thursday and Saturday
Where: Shawnee Peak, Bridgton
Defending champions: Girls — Greely; Boys — Falmouth.
Contenders: Girls —Edward Little, Oxford Hills, Leavitt, Falmouth; Boys — Mt. Blue, Edward Little, Greely, Scarborough.
Skiers to watch: Girls — Elyse Dinan, Greely; Teal Otley, Greely; Jill Booth, Greely; Krysia Lesniak, Falmouth; Evelyn Thompson, Hampden; Annika Kahkonen, Oxford Hills; Miranda Murphy, Oxford Hills; Mallory Parker, Mt. Blue; Katerina Bessey, Mt. Blue; Brooke Lever, Edward Little; Hannah Arel, Edward Little; Tara Benson, Leavitt. Boys — Joseph Lesniak, Falmouth; Will Bryant, Greely; Andrew Mills, Scarborough; Mike Miller, Skowhegan; Nick Cushman, Portland; Kyle Farrington, Mt. Blue; Felxi Bonnevie, Mt. Blue; Dylan Roberts, Mt. Blue; Reilly Bolduc, Lewiston; Tanner Dillingham, Edward Little; Ryland VanDecker, Oxford Hills; Chris Burns, Oxford Hills.
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Mt. Abram, Greenwood
Defending champions: Girls — Mt. Abram and Yarmouth; Boys — Yarmouth.
Contenders: Girls — Maranacook, Camden Hills, Freeport, Cape Elizabeth; Boys — Maranacook, Camden Hills, Freeport, Presque Isle, Gray-New Gloucester, Spruce Mountain.
Skiers to watch: Girls — Elise Luce, Mt. Abram; Emily Listowich, Mt. Abram; Chapin Dorsett, Yarmouth; Julia Primeau, Yarmouth; Sophie Hewitt, Cape Elizabeth; Rachel Tooth, Maranacook; Erin Guilmet, Maranacook; Lydia Morin, Camden Hills; Wynne Cushing, Freeport. Boys — Tucker Grout, Yarmouth; Rhys Eddy, Yarmouth; Matt Woodbury, Yarmouth; Noah Lobozzo, Gray-New Gloucester; Alec Daigle, Maranacook; Kelby Mace, Maranacook; Matt Delmar, Maranacook; Zach Richards, Spruce Mountain; Stephen Sylvester, Spruce Mountain; Devan Pomeroy, Spruce Mountain; Crockett Lalor, Camden Hills; Bryce Smith, Presque Isle; Kyle McCullum, Presque Isle; Ryder Bennell, Freeport; Jed Stevens, Mt. Abram.
When: Thursday and Friday
Where: Sunday River, Newry
Defending champions: Girls and Boys — Fort Kent.
Contenders: Mountain Valley, Central Aroostook, Telstar, Winthrop.
Skiers to watch: Girls — Sarah Klein, Mountain Valley; Katie Collette, Mountain Valley; Alexa Pelletier; Fort Kent; Samantha Dubay, Fort Kent; Samantha Kearney, Central Aroostook; Nicole Gerhart, Central Aroostook; Samantha Ladd, St. Dom’s, Olivia Tsouprake, St. Dom’s, Annie Guerette, Winthrop, Amy DeHaas, Winthrop; Becki Bryant, Monmouth; Kelley Frumer, Waynflete; Annalise Hawthorne, Telstar; Gabrielle Stone, Telstar. Boys — Nick Newman, Mountain Valley; Andrew Arsenault, Mountain Valley; Chris Bourret, Mountain Valley; Carter Voisine, Fort Kent; Andrew Paradis, Fort Kent; Joey Guimond, Fort Kent; J.J. Jansen, Winthrop; Greg Wheeler, Telstar; Louis Frumer, Waynflete; Zach Grass, Central Aroostook; Devin Faulkner, Central Aroostook.