CARRABASSETT VALLEY — It was in the low teens at the start of the Billy Chenard Memorial Nordic race at Sugarloaf, putting winter in midseason form. For the racers, nobody was close to midseason form, and that was kind of the point.
“It feels really great to get on snow. We’re really focusing on training today,” Maranacook Community High School senior Laura Parent said. “It’s just a good first day for everybody, to get on skis and just go for it.”
For Parent and her Black Bear teammates, Saturday’s race was an early step in defense of their Class B state championship. The same went for the Mt. Blue girls, who are coming off a state title in Class A. Considering both teams have only been training on snow for a few days, it was a small step.
“We had only been on snow a couple days, on the flats. This is the first time any of them had gone uphill this year. You try to make the focus not on going fast today, to be honest with you,” Maranacook coach Steve DeAngelis said. “It’s about building both endurance and building skills back again. Nobody feels totally coordinated right now. Kids who were really smooth at the end of last year, not so smooth right now, and that’s OK. We’ll work on that, building technique.”
Claire Polfus, Mt. Blue’s coach, echoed DeAngelis’ sentiments.
“What I really saw out of them the best was super, positive attitudes about their races. Right afterward, hearing, ‘I really pushed up that hill,’ or, ‘I felt really good. It was really hard, but I pushed.’ That’s what we were looking for in this race. I don’t really care about the results. I care about how they raced,” Polfus said.
Polfus’ Cougars graduated Julia Ramsey, who won individual state titles in the classical and freestyle disciplines last season. Mt. Blue returns talented skiers in Meg Charles, Gretchen Huish, Zoe Huish and Chelsea Seabold. Charles, Gretchen Huish and Seabold finished three, four, five in the Class A classical championship last season, and each also placed in the top 12 in the freestyle championship.
“We’re so strong this year, and I’m honored to be one of the top (skiers). I’m really looking forward to trying to fill those shoes, along with Megan and Zoe and Kayla (White) and all the other really strong girls,” said Seabold, who placed eighth at Sugarloaf on Saturday. Gretchen Huish took fourth place.
“I know that I have a long way to come this season, but I am so excited,” Seabold added. “The biggest thing this year is to race and have fun and be a good sportsman.”
Saturday’s race was a brisk 2.5-kilometer loop. To get in 5 kilometers for the day, DeAngelis had his team do a time trial prior to the race. Like Mt. Blue, Maranacook returns a strong group of skiers from last season’s championship squad, including Parent, who won the Class B classical title.
“I’m pretty hopeful for the team state championship again. I think that’s my main goal. We’d like to defend our title,” Parent said.
DeAngelis dismissed talk of defending titles as premature.
“We honestly don’t talk about that a lot. We talk about getting better. That’s what you can control. You can’t control what other teams might have or might not have, but you can control how good you get by how hard you work,” DeAngelis said.
On Saturday, Parent placed third, behind Liza Gallandt of Orono and Laura Wilson of Gould Academy. This was Parent’s first time competing in the Chenard Memorial since her freshman year, she said.
“I’m always ready to race. I just love racing, no matter how the snow is,” Parent said.
There’s been enough snow at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, Mt. Blue’s home course, for the Cougars to be on snow since Monday.
“The snow’s not awesome at Titcomb, but we’re on snow,” Polfus said. “We’ve been really lucky getting good workouts on snow already.”
The Cougars did some summer roller skiing workouts together, and with most of the team participating in a fall sport, they came to the Nordic season in shape and ready to go.
“They all came into the season looking strong. We’re getting our distance workouts in right now, trying to build up that base so that we can get fast at the end of the year,” Polfus said.
The state meets are scheduled for Feb. 21-23, with Class A at Black Mountain in Rumford and Class B at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. Being fast then, not on a cooler-than-average December day at Sugarloaf, is what counts.