BETHEL — There are two waves of preparation involved in competing at the Telstar Relays, neither of which have anything to do with the moderate physical challenge.

Step one is praying that the weather will cooperate and allow the event to happen. Thanks to a December snowfall and a New Year’s deep freeze that each threatened records, of course, it did, for the second straight year and fourth out of seven.

Then there’s the challenge of choosing teams within teams — this year’s format was girl/boy/girl/boy, each skiing roughly three kilometers. In the low-key tradition of the Nordic skiing showcase, there are different tactics and philosophies involved.

Mt. Blue coach David Nordstrom, for instance, lined up his skiers with total disregard for how the Cougars might stack up against Yarmouth, Gould, Merriconeag, Portland or any other powerhouses in attendance. Whether Nordstrom’s team realized it or not, his athletes were competing among themselves.

“I didn’t really look at our place finish,” Nordstrom said. “What I did was I kind of set up teams that were evenly matched so that they were racing each other. They did well.”

So did he. The experiment, as it pertained to chemistry, psychology and mathematics, worked out splendidly.

Mt. Blue’s three quartets each registered a time among the top 15 out of the 41 teams in attendance. The Cougars’ veteran squads completed the race in 48:00 and 48:12, just under five minutes off Yarmouth’s winning pace.

Making Nordstrom even happier: His all-freshman team was closely in tow at a clip of 49:09.

“I did that so our freshmen would feel confident and so the older skiers would feel a little nervous,” Nordstrom said.

Yarmouth (43:17) won the ‘A’ race by 25 seconds over hometown favorite Gould.  Portland was third, with defending champion Merriconeag, a Class C school based out of Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, a close fourth.

Leavitt’s lead foursome of Abby Chase, Rylee Knox, Mackenzie Varney and Josh Therrien was the top local public school entry, finishing eighth in 46:43.

“We had it so our first two or three teams were really good, kind of the faster ones. Then after that we just kind of filled in,” Leavitt coach Dustin Williamson said. “I guess the strategy was to have the first few teams kind of match up with the other schools. I have to look at individual times and maybe it will tell me a different story, but they skied well.”

When the Telstar Relays go off without a hitch, they are typically the first major competition for every school involved.

They also serve up a unique format. High school Nordic skiers customarily compete individually, with their aggregate finishes producing a team score. And those races usually are more of a grind than Saturday’s leisurely loop and shared experience.

Next Saturday’s Hornet Classic at Leavitt, for example, is a 5K. Mt. Blue’s first home meet of the season Wednesday at Titcomb Mountain will cover 7K.

“It’s nice to have a little shorter race the first race of the season, kind of get the kinks out,” Williamson said. “They got the first race under the belt. They skied well focusing on what needs to be done, focusing on some technique. They’re all excited about how the race went.”

And unlike other races where the spectators essentially see the start and the finish and nothing else, most of the Telstar course is visible on its athletic fields and accessible with a good pair of boots.

“It’s a fun format. The spectators love it because they go back and forth across the fields,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom noted that it also gives coaches a chance to clear the cobwebs.

“I had to come up with the teams before we went on (holiday) break,” he said. “We didn’t have a chance to shake it out to see who was going to do the best, so to the best of my ability I tried to make the teams equal from what I knew from hearsay, and it worked out pretty good.”

The starting time was pushed back an hour to noon in hopes of avoiding the worst of the arctic blast that gradually began moving out of Maine on Saturday morning.

Competitors were rewarded with bright skies and temperatures in the mid-teens.

“It warmed up nicely. The sun came out,” Williamson said. “It’s always nice when the snow is a little bit crunchy, has that crunch sound to it. That lets you know it’s going to be good skiing.”

One pleasant surprise of the meet was the upstart team from Monmouth. Dylan Thombs and Becki Bryant led the Mustangs to a top-10 finish.

Nearly 400 skiers were preregistered for the event, according to meet director and Telstar Nordic coach Sarah Southam.

Members of the top three teams were presented with Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards.

“We decided instead of medals or ribbons, we’d get something people would want,” Telstar skier Liam Gallagher explained.


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