Coach Kerrie Brenner, Julia Pomeroy, Margo Kenyon, Paije Crockett, Julia Grant, Raina Breen, Grace Goodwin, Katrina Cook, and Coach Jay Lindsey make up the new Spruce Mountain High School girls’ ski team. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

RUMFORD — Spruce Mountain head coach Jay Lindsey went from zero female nordic skiers a year ago to eight this year. While many of them hadn’t nordic skied much before this winter, Lindsey used grant money to recruit a solid base for the future.

“I’ve been recruiting hard basically all last year, and I got a grant to buy ski boots so basically any kid that wants to ski for Spruce, I have all the equipment so just show up,” Lindsey said. “I was very fortunate that over the years, between Randy Eastler and Jane Dipompo, they have accumulated enough skis for the kids to ski on, and then last year I got a $1,000 grant to buy ski boots because I didn’t have ski boots.”

Spruce Mountain’s athletic director Marc Keller also donated money to buy ski poles.

“It’s makes a difference because if you aren’t sure about nordic then the last thing you want to do is buy $500 skis and then not like it,” Lindsey said.

Through his recruitment, Lindsey was able to recruit three juniors, Katrina Cook, Grace Goodwin and Cassandra Landry, as well as Julia Grant, Margo Kenyon and Raina Breen in order to set up a foundation that hopefully will become stronger over the coming years.

Seniors Paije Crockett and skimister (alpine and nordic skier) Julia Pomeroy will also be on this year’s team.

With Spruce Mountain, the ski hill, being a quick drive down the road from the school, many kids grow up on the slopes, but usually downhill and not through the trails. With a new sport always comes nerves, and Lindsey has had to managed those nerves and tried to show his new racers that the sport can bring joy.

“The girls are excited but are really not sure what is going to happen,” Lindsey said. “They’re nervous and I tried to not give too much info. I am really interested in seeing them get around the course and see what they do.”

The Phoenix will compete in their first meet Saturday. Lindsey wants the experience to be a new one for his newcomers, so he hasn’t spilled too much information about what goes into a cross country ski race.

“My goal is to get them around the race course and have them still smiling,” Lindsey said of the race this weekend. “They asked if there are any hills, I said no. Any sharp turns? No. Saturday will be the first race for most of these kids, certainly on nordic skis, so hopefully I still have eight on Monday.”

Maine has been fortunate this winter to get a good amount of snow since Halloween, allowing teams, including Spruce, to get out on the snow earlier than usual.

For reference, Jackman, Maine, which is about a two-hour drive north of Spruce Mountain, received 20 inches of snow by November 26, according to weather.com, which is more than double the average to date.

“Three days a week we go out and we are just skiing classic or skating on the soccer field because there’s no other snow,” Lindsey said. “Two days a week we do some weight training and skiing afterwards. Wednesday and Thursday are our first goes at Spruce Mountain as they just groomed the trails so we have a place to ski over there.”

The excitement level is high for the Phoenix entering this year. Lindsey isn’t expecting specific places or times from the girls’ team, just improvement.

While the grant has helped the third-year coach start up a good-sized girls team, lower ski turnouts over the past few years at Spruce Mountain has hampered his recruitment. Another obstacle faced is the Maine Principals Association rule that middle-schoolers cannot train with the high school team during the season. With a small number of coaches around the state, the younger audience may not turn to nordic skiing if there aren’t more options to learn the sport.

“One of the issues when you talk to (Mt. Abram head coach) Buzz Bean or some of the other folks is high school coaches can’t coach middle school kids,” Lindsey said. “There’s so many of us, and if they can’t work with us then what will they do? I would love to see middle school kids out there with us, but it’s a conflict with the MPA. The more kids we can get skiing the better, but it’s difficult when you can’t work with them.”

Overall, Lindsey is excited to get the ski season underway and hopes to go through the season with smiles on the faces of his racers.

“We will get into skiing shape, start being comfortable on the ski,s and for the girls I would love to see them all just ski around and be happy about it,” Lindsey said.