RUMFORD – Mt. Blue senior Lisa Hartung could have breathed differently, and the outcome of the final race of the 2006 Class A state skiing championships would have changed.

Any stop, slip, slide or stutter by any of Mt. Blue’s top four skiers on the trails at Black Mountain would have altered the results.

But there were none.

Hartung slid into fifth place in Thursday’s classical race by four-tenths of a second over Leavitt’s Katelyn Beeckel. Meredith Allen hung onto eighth place by exactly one second, and Lauren Kerr inched into 11th position six-tenths of a second ahead of Lauren Damon of Oxford Hills.

Those two total seconds added up to a stunning, two-point Mt. Blue win over Leavitt in the race, which lifted the Cougars to the Nordic combined title.

“I knew it was the last race, it was states, and I really had to push,” said Kerr. “Being the fourth skier, you get a lot of pressure. There’s pressure anywhere, though. You have to always be thinking about where you can add the time. During the warm-up, the downhills got really slow.

“They felt better during the race, but you just have to keep in mind that every second counts, and on those downhills instead of tucking you really have to be pushing.”

The Mt. Blue Alpine teams have long cast shadows over their Nordic counterparts. In fact, most of the girls’ 13 state titles since 1992 have come thanks to stellar downhill skiing and mere adequate totals on the trails.

This year, though, the Cougars did everything well, grabbing their 13th title in 15 years by a whopping 132 points over Oxford Hills.

Leavitt, which had one bad day of Alpine competition, slid into third overall, followed by Hampden and Camden Hills.

“These girls have come a long way this year,” said Mt. Blue Nordic coach Buzz Davis. “I thought we were a stronger skating team, actually, until today.”

The snow fell sporadically at Black Mountain all morning, making it difficult for teams to choose a wax for their skis.

At times, the snow would come down in white sheets, while at others it would taper to a flurry or two, only to start back up.

“We had the best wax today,” said Hartung. “We were so excited. Overall it was good. We had a new race strategy today, and I actually felt good both times up High School Hill.”

The course itself was also tough this year, due to the lack of snow this winter. The part of the course dubbed “High School Hill,” a grueling climb midway through the race, became part of a loop, and the skiers had to tackle the grade twice.

“That was not fun,” Leavitt skier Marybeth Kelson said to bystanders as she crossed the finish line. “Have you seen that hill? It’s gi-normous.”

Kelson finished fourth in Thursday’s race despite the hill, and was one of three Leavitt skiers in the top six.

The race winner, meanwhile, was Mandy Ivey of Oxford Hills. Much like her dominance in the freestyle race Tuesday, Ivey’s performance Thursday was exquisite. Her time of 15:51.2 was 50 seconds better than Lauren Fereshetian of Leavitt, despite the flying snow.

Ivey will join seven other Maine cross country skiers representing New England and next week’s Junior Olympics in Michigan.

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