Alpine skiing: Phoenix gang's all back, racing for another title

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Skiers Bailey Coates, Grace Harmatys, Kiarra Richards, Allison Acritelli, Julia Pomeroy, Madeline Timberlake, and Adria Plourde pose in their state championships jackets at the end of ski team practice under the championship banners  from Jay and Livermore Halls High Schools. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

JAY — The Spruce Mountain girls’ Alpine ski team in a rare but special situation.

Every skier is back from last year’s team. And last year’s team won the state championship, the first in any sport in Spruce Mountain High School’s history.

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The Phoenix didn’t add any newcomers this year, so this winter’s team is exactly the same as last winter’s state championship.

“Same seven that I had before,” Spruce Mountain coach Bill Acritelli said. “It’s a true pleasure.”

Furthermore, between the giant slalom and slalom each skier — Allison Acritelli, Madeline Timberlake, Kiarra Richards, Julia Pomeroy, Grace Harmatys, Adria Plourde and Bailey Coates — was part of the scoring in last year’s state championship at Black Mountain.

“It was a total team effort last year,” Acritelli said.

Now the Phoenix will try to match their success, if not surpass it in 2017-18.

“I definitely think we’re going to push ourselves harder to do better than we did last year,” senior Allison Acritelli, the coach’s daughter, said.

Sophomore Adria Plourde said one way the Phoenix can outdo last year is by winning by a larger margin. That probably comes from the fact that they couldn’t have won by a smaller margin than they did last year.

“It all kind of came down to all of us coming together, because we won by one point,” Allison Acritelli said.

To do that, the Phoenix had to overcome a massive margin. They entered the second day of the Class B championships as long shots — in fourth place and trailing first-day leader Yarmouth by 23 points.

“Day 1 we were down by a lot, a couple of us fell,” Plourde said. “And so Day 2 we were just coming to redeem ourselves and just prove that we can be up in the top where we’re supposed to be, and we ended up winning.”

Allison Acritelli went early and skied so well that she took first and won the slalom title.

As the day went on, Bill Acritelli was actively communicating with his team. Conditions had changed from the day before, and the course was getting the best of a lot of skiers.

Acritelli kept telling his team to “ski smarter, not harder.”

The instructions were heeded. Bailey Coates, then a freshman, straddled a gate, and despite soaring down the mountain at a fast speed, she made the decision that rather than finish her run and take a disqualification, she needed to stop and walk back up and go around the gate properly.

That helped the Phoenix earn more points, which were at a premium.

“Her hiking up and going around, that helped us,” Allison Acritelli said. “Even though she got a slower time. Just by her hiking up, it was able to push us forward that much more to get that one point.

“Every little thing that we did was perfect just to get us that one point to go ahead.”

Madeline Timberlake followed Coates’ 13th-place run with a 14th-point finish to push a Yarmouth skier down a place, and down a point.

Skiing “smarter, not harder” came easy to the Phoenix.

“The kids have a very good skiing IQ,” Bill Acritelli said.

The Spruce Mountain skiers have been developing those ski smarts together since they all started at Spruce Mountain when they were in elementary school.

Through that time, they and their families have formed a tight bond while they raced together. The girls even won the slalom and giant slalom championships in middle school.

“As other teams are just kind of connected by a school,” Plourde said, “all through middle school we were a club, so we fund-raised, our parents ran it, so we have come together to build our team up to where we are.”

Bill Acritelli said the Spruce Mountain girls are “family-style” skiers.

“They’re all like a band of sisters,” he said. “They get along, have each others’ back, they push each other.”

The high school state championship only made them all closer.

Despite having a group of experienced champions, skiing is such a finicky sport that winning another state championship won’t be easy. Adding to the difficulty is that this year’s state championships are in Presque Isle.

“Of course they’d love to do it again, but it takes a special day,” Bill Acritelli said.

Winning that first one, though, only made the Phoenix more confident they can do it again.

Whether they win or not, the Phoenix will enjoy the ride.

“It’s all about us having fun, and that’s like our main goal is us having fun as a team,” Allison Acritelli said. “And we’re a family, and we try to like push each other to do our hardest and do our best, and I think this year we just are going to be coming even more together and try our hardest to do better so that we can succeed and win again.”

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