If there is one familiar refrain from area ski coaches as the KVAC and MVC get set to run their conference meets this week, it’s that in each case, the competition really is too close to call.
The conferences have also thrown a wrinkle into things this season, and have chosen to run a joint meet to decide their conference championships.
The KVAC and MVC meets will run Wednesday at Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford, and Saturday at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. Though each conference will award their own trophies and hand out their own awards, the skiers will all get to compete in one large event.
“I think it’s great It adds a lot of skiers to the race. There’s going to be a ton of kids at the race, and that’s great for everyone,” EL alpine coach Tara Eretzian said.
“Everybody’s excited about having this all together. We’ll still have the separate MVC, separate KVAC, but putting it all together, the kids, the coaches, everyone’s excited,” Spruce Mountain alpine coach Kenny Jacques said. “We haven’t heard one person who’s against this.”
One of the reasons for the shift is numbers. The MVC alone has only four complete boys’ alpine teams with four skiers registered for the slalom and giant slalom races, and only three on the girls’ side. Of the 78 girls slated to start the giant slalom at Black Mountain on Wednesday, only 21 hail from the MVC, and only 34 of the 91 boys.
But more than the numbers, or lack thereof, the merging of the two conference races will also allow skiers who already see each other during regular-season meets to ski together — and against one another — in a bigger, more meaningful setting.
“There’s going to be a lot of good competition,” Jacques said. “These kids all race together anyway. They train together and they race together, so it gives them a chance for bragging rights, if you will, to who really is the fastest around.”
The familiar schools have once again put together a solid season, despite the relative lack of snow. Mt. Blue and Edward Little are favored on the girls’ side of the hill. Allarie Lever and Phoebe Chamberlin have provided the Red Eddies with a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup all season.
“Phoebe and Allarie have been great, but you look at kids like Hannah Johnston and Sophie Harris, how much they’ve stepped it up this year, and even Arielle Moreau has come on strong as the season’s gone on,” Eretzian said. “They’re skiing really well right now.”
At Mt. Blue, the Cougars’ Heather Farrington and Mallory Parker have been solid, as well. And with the MVC skiing alongside the KVAC, Mt. Abram’s Elise and Erin Luce will be in the mix for the overall crown, as well.
“I think it’s anybody’s race,” Eretzian said. “It’s going to be, which team has four good skiers all ready to go, who can all finish and finish fast.”
The boys’ race should be no different. Spruce Mountain boasts an impressive stable of skiers this season in the MVC, and may stack up well against the larger KVAC schools in the bigger race. One of the more intriguing matchups will be for the boys’ individual crown, with Mt. Blue standout Lucas Bonnevie, Spruce Mountain’s Cody Jacques, Alec Daigle from Maranacook, Edward Little’s Nick Cote and Ben Bowles, as well as Reilly Bolduc of Lewiston, skiing as an independent. From a team perspective, the teams are as tightly bunched as they have been in years.
“You always have to be looking at Mt. Blue in a big race like this, but there are a lot of good teams here,” Eretzian said. “Maranacook has so much depth they can throw at you, and Oxford Hills has skied well. I think our team, if we can get four good runs in, can compete with any of the teams. It should be a good, close race.”
The giant slalom at Black Mountain is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, with the slalom slated for Saturday at Titcomb, also at 9 a.m.
On the trails
The Nordic races will feature nearly 100 more skiers than the alpine races, with 11 full girls’ teams and 16 boys’ squads in addition to many other individual racers. The split on the boys’ side is an even eight MVC teams and eight KVAC teams, with five MVC teams in the girls’ competition and six from the KVAC.
“It’s going to make for great competition,” Leavitt Nordic coach Dustin Williamson said. “It’s going to be a great meet. The girls are pumped up. They’ve had a fantastic season so far. They’re determined and motivated. This is the first race where there’s a championship attached to it, so they’re very excited. As are the boys, the boys are very excited as well, and ready to go.”
Preparation has been key for Nordic teams this year, which have run the majority of their races at Black Mountain given its ability to make snow for its Nordic trails. Thankfully for many teams, some natural snow finally fell in late January, giving them some opportunities to train closer to home.
“We’ve been doing some great technique work, and some great skiing, finally, with some snow that Mother Nature has given us.” Williamson said. “There’s nothing forecast to fall, but the temperatures are supposed to stay kind of cooler, so not too much will melt.”
From an individual standpoint, the merging of the MVC and KVAC meets allows Nordic ski enthusiasts a chance to see two of the top racer in Maine compete against one another in what could be a Class B state championship preview when Abby Mace of Maranacook and Sadie James of Mt. Abram take to the snow together. Mace won the Hornet Classic with James out of the lineup earlier this season, and James returned the favor at the Sassi Memorial Classical race, with Mace absent. In the Maranacook Wave skate race, Mace bested James by about 15 seconds.
On the team front, both Leavitt and Mt. Blue have been solid all season. The Hornets’ girls’ squad was the top KVAC team in a field of more than 30 squads at the Sassi this season, followed by Mt. Blue, while Mt. Abram, behind James, was the top MVC school.
On the boys’ side, Mt. Abram led the MVC while Oxford Hills was the top boys’ program in the KVAC.
“It’s always good when there’s great competition,” Williamson said. “It’s always even more exciting when you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. The title is pretty much up for grabs. It’s going to go to the team that races smart and has been training well.”
The cross country freestyle race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., Wednesday. The classical race will be at Titcomb on Saturday, also at 2 p.m.