BETHEL — The life of  a Gould Academy Nordic skier isn’t too bad, and not just because of this endless winter of 2014.

On any given day, a member of Gould’s Nordic team can wake up in his dorm room, head down to the basement, wax his skis, step outside and walk across Church Street to glide onto the Pine Hill Trails, the 40-kilometer trail system the school shares with nearby Bethel Inn.

“We’re pretty spoiled,” Gould Nordic head coach Jeremy Nellis said. “I think the kids get it.”

Nellis acknowledges the coaches have been pretty spoiled, too, what with all of the talent the private school can draw.

Some of that talent will be representing Maine this weekend, along with about 40 more of the state’s best high school cross country skiers, in the Eastern High School Championships at Mountain Top in Chittenden, Vt.

Five Huskies, all from western Maine, qualified for EHSCs at the Nordic selection race held March 2 at Sugarloaf Outdoor Center. It is a satisfying conclusion to an already fulfilling season that saw Gould win the coveted Sassi Memorial and the New England Prep (NEPSAC) title.

The level of competition at the EHSCs is as high as some of the Huskies have faced this season, but Nellis is encouraging his skiers — three boys and one girl (one skier will not be competing due to a prior commitment) — to let loose and have fun.

“Given that it’s the last weekend, I think it’s a chance for the kids to try something new and expand a little. There’s nothing else to hold back for,” Nellis said.

Nellis has always emphasized his skiers’ long-term growth over race results, although the two haven’t been mutually exclusive. He led Gould’s boys to three consecutive NEPSAC titles 2009-11 and the girls to back-to-back crowns in 2010 and 2011.

After a two-year stint coaching for the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont, Nellis returned to a young and talented roster in 2013. With the help of assistant coach and former Telstar and Colby standout Fred Bailey, he quickly got the Huskies to buy into their off-season training regimen.

“It’s always a little bit of a mystery what’s going to happen when you switch over because you get a lot of changes in training philosophy,” said  Marcello DeLuca, a senior from Hanover who is the lone holdover from Nellis’ first stint. “But we knew Jeremy and Fred would be great.”

One of the first things they did was dial down the Nordic-specific training and encourage cross country running in the fall. The cross country team benefited, winning NEPSAC, and so did the Nordic athletes on the team.

“I really stepped my training down in intensity this year, and then just did shorter speeds, which made so I didn’t get sick until later in the season. I had an issue with that last year,” DeLuca said.

Staying healthy and an emphasis on classic technique early in the season helped DeLuca have his best year, which included a third place at the Sassi.

But the Huskies needed major contributions from their underclassmen to become a factor. Right on cue, sophomores Caleb Clarke and Andrew Siegel, both of Bethel, became top-10 regulars.

Clarke grew into a force in the last month, winning the NENSA J2 individual title last weekend after placing in the top-10 in the sprint (third), skate (ninth) and classic (first) races.

“His fitness was average coming into the winter,” Nellis said. “He’s skied a lot and his fitness has gotten a lot better. Technically, he’s one of our best skiers.”

Marcus Wentworth, a freshman from Woodstock, put the Huskies over the top. He admitted to feeling a bit overwhelmed when the season started, as any freshman would be, but his confidence grew with every top 20 finish (peaking with a seventh overall at the J2 Festival).

“We’ve just been trying to relax on skis, and that’s a lot of it,” Wentworth said. “Fred has a term, ‘spazzy,’ that he used to describe me early in the season. But I feel like I’ve just been relaxing on the skis and try to be smooth.”

 Wentworth expects to be even more relaxed at EHSCs.

“It’s a higher age group, so I’m just going to try to keep skiing like I want to ski and just have fun, enjoy the experience,” he said.

Leela Hornbach, a sophomore from Farmington and the lone Gould girl to qualify, will be joining Wentworth, DeLuca and Clarke in Chittenden.

The Huskies will be among 200 competitors at Mountain Top. DeLuca, the only Gould racer with EHSC experience, finished 31st last year at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle. He expects Mountain Top to present different challenges.

“Racing at Mountain Top has always been really interesting because it’s kind of a classic New England course,” he said. “It’s a lot of climbing and a lot of descents, and it’s typically pretty warm there.”

“Considering they’re my last high school races,” he added, “I’m definitely going to leave it all out there.”


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