RUMFORD — A dramatic change in conditions from Wednesday’s classical to Thursday’s 5K freestyle didn’t faze Monmouth Academy’s Dylan Thombs.
“I like skiing in the warm,” said Thombs, a senior. “My (fall) cross country coach, Tom Menendez, he always tells us don’t even think about the weather. We all have to ski in it. We all have to run in it. So I try to embrace whatever weather comes. I mean, it was a blizzard (Wednesday) and I was loving every second of it. Spring skiing (Thursday), and it was awesome.”
Yet as he approached Black Mountain’s infamous “High School Hill,” Thombs still needed a little extra encouragement if he was going to make school history at the Class C Nordic state championships.
“My coach, Chris Bryant was running up it telling me my splits and I’m (thinking), ‘Oh crap, I’ve got to get going,'” Thombs said. “I think that was the fastest I’ve ever gone up ‘High School Hill.’ And it was exhausting, I collapsed here at the finish and it was worth every single second of it.”
Thombs won the Class C skate in 13:09.30, a little more than two seconds ahead of Katahdin’s Daniel Streinz, on a sun-splashed 40-degree day. It was an emotional achievement for Thombs, the lone member of Monmouth’s boys’ team who recovered from off-season double-shin surgery to win the Mountain Valley Conference title and his school’s first state Nordic title.
“Coming back from everything, the shin problems all last year, from really a disappointing season last year, and coming back off of all that, to be able to win the state meet my senior year… it’s amazing,” said Thombs, who came in second to Streinz on Wednesday. “All those hours of a lot of hard, crazy work over the spring, summer and fall… I’ve been working ever since I was a freshman to get this goal.”
The team titles were pretty much a foregone conclusion going into Day 2. Merriconeag-Waldorf of New Gloucester did indeed sweep the girls’ and boys’ titles for the second year in a row after building insurmountable leads on Wednesday. The girls collected their fourth consecutive state crown with 35 points, followed by Fort Kent (102), Monmouth (160) and Dirigo (189). The boys (39) topped Fort Kent (112) and Dirigo (152).
With Merriconeag out of reach, the Monmouth girls hoped to challenge Fort Kent for second, or at least close some of the 18-point gap that separated them after Wednesday. But the Mustangs, in just their fourth year as a ski program, still had plenty of reason to celebrate after improving upon last year’s eighth-place finish.
A talented junior class led by Becki Bryant (12th), Jordyn Mann (18th), Shannon Buzzell (23rd), Hannah Kerrigan (33rd) and Carey Knowles (35th) have helped build the program into a force to be reckoned with next year.
“We’ve had a lot of turnover over the last few years,” Chris Bryant said. “We had this core that we started with, starting with Becki and Jordyn, and we added Shannon, and each year we just pick up new people to add to the core. They’re all juniors, so next year we should have a really powerful team if we can get everyone back. It’s been exciting to watch them as they grow year to year.”
Hannah Streinz of Katahdin won the freestyle for the second consecutive year, finishing in 15:18.40. She and Merriconeag’s Samantha Pierce flip-flopped the top two of Wednesday’s classical, with Pierce finishing 33 seconds behind. Fiona Ahearne of Merriconeag took the bronze.
Isabel Gerencer of St. Dom’s was the top local girls’ skier, taking fourth (16:59.90). Gerencer, the MVC champion, pushed through some slushy spots to attain her second top-five finish in 24 hours.
“The snow was a lot softer today,” she said. “You had to bring your feet up over the snow and not get caught up where it was a little bit mushy on the hills.”
Jada Choate of Winthrop (15th) and Carla Boyle-Wight of Telstar (16th) were the other top local skiers.
Like Monmouth, Dirigo has been building its Nordic program, gradually gaining strength in numbers. The boys bettered last year’s sixth-place finish with top-25 performances the last two days by Sam Rock, Ethan Cantin and Keenan Martin.
“When we started in eighth grade, there were only seven of us,” said Rock, a senior. “Over the years, we kept on attracting new members and it’s been great. It’s like we’re almost building a family up through the years. We have 20 now. It used to be we’d have nothing but, like, two skiers in the high school.”
Of course, Merriconeag is now the program all Class C schools aspire to become. The boys had four of the top seven finishers Thursday, and six skiers in the top 20. The girls also had four of the top seven.
“We just have a really good team atmosphere and a lot of fun,” Pierce said. “In our curriculum, we ski once a week instead of gym class from second grade on. That might be part of it, too.”
Conner Woods of Mountain Valley and Becki Bryant lead the skimeister competition heading into alpine championships, which start next Thursday at Sunday River.