Mt. Blue’s Mike Gurney, center, navigates the crowd at the start of the race at the Telstar relays in Bethel last season.
It’s not everyday that a Nordic ski team has to replace not one, but two state champion skiers.
Mt. Blue is in that position this season after Tucker Barber and Julia Ramsey both graduated after winning the 2016 skate and classic Class A championships.
“Julia Ramsey and Tucker Barber were both incredible skiers and both leaders on the team,” Mt. Blue coach Claire Polfus said. “They were technically astute so teammates could follow and learn from them.”
In her third year, Polfus is trying to begin her career with three consecutive state championships. Her Mt. Blue boys’ and girls’ teams have reloaded again this year, both with talent and leadership coming from all directions. With state titles in a row, Polfus is trying to focus on her team, rather than expectations.
“I think by being at Mt. Blue, there’s always some pressure because we have such a long history of skiing in this area,” Polfus said. “I try to coach without pressure. The most important thing about skiing is to improve and have fun.”
On the boys’ side, the Cougars have to fill their top three spots after graduation. However, a group of four juniors will lead the Cougars.
Sam Smith, Sam Stinson, Dominic Giampietro and Mike Gurney are the glue that hold the team together.
“They’re pretty competitive with each other and other teams, so I can’t foresee what’s going to happen with them, but they’ll be able to work together and improve,” Polfus said. “Competition within the team is good.”
The four juniors all have their own strengths.
Polfus believes Gurney is great in skate races, while Giampietro is a great classic skier. Smith is a good all-around skier, while Stinson rises to the occasion when the going gets tough.
“The harder the race the better Sam does,” Polfus said. “They each have their strength. It’s really good. All together they make a really good all around team.”
In addition to the four juniors, Mt. Blue is joined by Amr Bakkar, an exchange student from Egypt that ran cross country in the fall.
“He had never seen snow before but it was fun to see him take on that challenge in snow,” Polfus said.
While the juniors have brought their team closer together, senior Zoe Huish, who is the “motherly figure” on the team, is excited to see what her group of close friends can do this season on the girls’ team without Ramsey.
“It’s been kind of hard getting used to them not being around,” Huish said. “But we are really strong this year and there are a couple new skiers that are exciting. We are really close. We have a group chat on Snapchat and Facebook and we send funny and encouraging messages. We are planning team sleepovers and want to incorporate team sleepovers to make the team closer, but I think it’s already really, really strong.”
Senior Alden Thompson is looking forward to the season and the camaraderie that comes with it.
“We are a group of people that really like each other we are friends outside of the ski team,” Thompson said. “We are pretty closely knit. We are trying to be successful but have fun at the same time.”
As far as competition for Mt. Blue in the KVAC, that would be Maranacook High School, which tied Mt. Blue last year at the KVAC championship for first place and returns many of its top skiers.
Polfus said that statewide, a lot of southern teams have strong skiers, but that she can’t be concerned with them at this point.
“There’s so many things that can happen between now and February between sickness and injury,” Polfus said. “We are taking it one day at a time.”
Mt. Blue head coach Claire Polfus congratulates Meg Charles after she finished third for her relay team at the Telstar Relays last season.