NORWAY – The Oxford Hills boys’ Nordic ski team feels like they are on the cusp of finally breaking through in 2017.

After finishing fifth in the Class A State Championship in 2016, the Vikings are ready to take on fellow KVAC rivals the Leavitt Hornets and the Mt. Blue Cougars this season. Mt. Blue won the the state championship and Leavitt placed second

The Cougars also took the KVAC title while Leavitt placed third.

This season, the Vikings return all but two from the 2015-16 team. The nucleus of the team includes seniors Nate McNutt and Zane Dustin. McNutt finished ninth in the classical race while coming in sixth in the freestyle race at the state championship. Dustin meanwhile finished 23rd in the freestyle race while finishing 24th in the classical race.

Junior Cameron Bancroft had an outstanding sophomore campaign as he finished 17th in the classical race and a tie for seventh in the freestyle race.

How can they improve this season? They hope to take the mentality that they have from the “practice field” to the race course.

“We don’t race as well as we practice, as I always say,” McNutt said. “We will be practicing and we will do really well. Once we get into the race, it gets into your head.”

McNutt also said they have to relax and the results will come. They will take the positives from years past and use them for this season.

“It’s always building off what you learned last year,” Dustin said. “We’ve all been getting better each year. Sometimes it isn’t enough.

Coach Christopher Easton says there’s so much he can do to prepare his kids for the races. He said coming into the season this is one of the better teams he had in this decade.

Easton also got them to think about training earlier than normal heading into the season.

“Mt. Blue gets an advantage with their summer training and their fall training especially,” Cameron Bancroft said. “This summer, (Easton) pushed a little harder to train before the actually ski season started. That may make the difference for us.”

Many of the team members also are on the cross country team in the fall which helps to prepare for the ski season. The two sports require interval training which includes doing two or more different activities at different speeds.

The training has paid off at the Chenard Sugarloaf Opener, where Bancroft and McNutt finished fifth and sixth respectfully while Dustin and freshmen Tom Bancroft finished 11th and 12th. It was an individual race so no team scores were recorded.

Saturday at the Telstar relays they finished 18th as the team only entered one relay team because of numbers and racers out due to illness.

Easton has been using the early season races to see how skiers are progressing.

“I’ve liked how the younger skiers have skied,” Easton said. “The older skiers are skiing well and they have improved. Watching some of the younger or the newer guys, the freshman, Tom Bancroft – Cam’s younger brother – Dom Sclafani, this is his second year on skis. He was a hockey player and watching him transform. Graham Huckins is a junior and he’s gotten better. But yeah, the young guys, I’ve been watching them get better and move up with the top three or four guys.”

Easton, who has been coaching at Oxford Hills for 36 seasons, truly knows what he has in a particular group usually by the middle of January, or, after two of the marquee events of the regular season take place.

“It’s usually midway through,” Easton said. “Once we have been to (the) Leavitt (Hornet Classic) and once we’ve been to (the) Marancook (Waves) you begin to go, ‘Okay,’ or ‘We’ve got to work on some things , light some fires.'”

While he doesn’t know what other teams like Leavitt, Mt. Blue and Maranacook have this season just yet, Easton knows the competition will be fierce like always.

“Every year it’s a different team pushing the other teams,” Easton said. “It’s always a good friendly rivalry. We all get along really well. The coaches are all friends from the different schools. It’s a friendly rivalry and yes, the competition is good. It will push these guys to be competing against because they know everybody. They want to get better and they want to beat Mt. Blue, they want to beat Leavitt. Leavitt wants to beat us.”

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