TURNER — Rylee Knox and Maddie Wiegman had more invested in Saturday’s Hornet Classic than the average Nordic ski race.
Not talking about the cost of skis, poles, wax and energy drink here. Think time and energy.
Knox, Wiegman and their Leavitt Area High School teammates spent most of the week eyeing the extended forecast and a shrinking snow pack. As late as Friday afternoon they were still aiming to stray a stride ahead of Mother Nature, grooming the course even as freezing rain descended.
“We shoveled for a few days after practice, and definitely last night was a nailbiter when we heard the rain and wondered how it was going to be,” Wiegman said. “You’re glad it could happen.”
Even happier now that the Hornets’ standouts finished among the elite of the nearly 300 skiers represented at this year’s event.
Wiegman was runner-up to Sarah Wade of Mt. Blue in the girls’ 5-kilometer classical race. Knox notched sixth in the boys’ event.
“It was sloppy, but it’s one of those races that will help you build for later, because you may as well have some bad races,” Wiegman said. “There’s not much snow out there. You just go into it like you would any other race. You just work harder. You have to fight through it.”
The fruits of Wiegman’s week-long labor, specifically the race itself: a time of 20 minutes, 36 seconds.
Wade was the lone girls’ skier to break the 20-minute barrier, crossing the wire in 19:41.5 before falling to a seated position in exhaustion.
“It was tough. It was pretty messy. Pretty much bare,” Wade said. “It’s very mental. The course is not super-challenging, but the conditions make it really tough.”
The boys’ race started at 10:30 a.m., with the girls going at noon. By that time, the snow pack surrounding the finish line was no greater than three inches thick.
That blanket wasn’t any deeper along the route.
“You have to really focus on your stride. The snow is really soft, so your poles sink far in it,” Wade said. “You have to think about your glide more and concentrate on balancing, because there aren’t many tracks. If you’re gliding more, then you go farther.”
Wiegman felt right at home, as expected.
She passed two skiers between the staggered start and her arrival at the first significant turn.
“You spend so much time on it, you know how to ski it, where you should push it, things like that,” she said. “It’s more of a technical course.”
Alyssa Andrews of Oxford Hils nearly made it a local sweep of the girls’ top three. Her time of 20:44.8 was just over three seconds slower than Cape Elizabeth’s Dana Hatton.
Ben Allen of Portland was the boys’ champion in 14:51.8, almost 44 seconds ahead of Thornton’s Mitch Harris. Mt. Blue’s Zach Veayo (15:50.4) was fourth.
Veayo attacked the saturated course by double-poling most of it, a tactic that wasn’t without its hazards.
“A lot of the sides were soft for poling. Your poles would fall through,” Veayo said. “You’re still into it. It’s a race. Stuff happens. You just have to deal with it and enjoy it if anything. Go with the flow and don’t worry about it.”
Knox and his Leavitt teammates spent Monday through Friday attacking the weather-beaten snow with other implements.
“We had one kid out here who really wanted to use his race skis. He raked the entire course with a leaf rake,” Knox said. “He did a lot of work. We put a lot of time in.”
His payoff was a time of 16:02.3 in the boys’ portion of the popular annual cross-country festival.
Knox was one of three tri-county skiers in the top six.
Zack Tannenbaum of Edward Little was fifth at 16 minutes, even.
The jackpot of snow storms during the holiday break was just enough to keep the Hornet Classic home this winter. It moved northwest to Black Mountain of Maine a year ago.
“I’m glad it could be here this year. It was iffy in some spots, but it was good enough to ski on,” Tannenbaum said. “Just go fast, same as every race. You can’t worry about the conditions. As long as the wax is right you go as hard as you can. Coach (Dan) Campbell did a great job with that.”
Maranacook won the team sweepstakes in both events. Mt. Blue was second and Leavitt tied for fourth in the boys’ chase. Oxford Hills, Mt. Blue and Leavitt finished third through fifth among the girls.
Twenty-five schools competed under foggy conditions and temperatures near 40 degrees.
“The cold is nice sometimes, but when it’s warmer it’s not as hard on the lungs as cold air is,” Tannenbaum said.
Other top-10 local finishers in the girls’ race were Moriah Lee of Oxford Hills in seventh, Izzy Gerencer of St. Dom’s ninth and Becki Bryant of Monmouth 10th.