The Maranacook boys Nordic team can imagine what others are saying. The Black Bears lost four of their top five skiers, the engine for a third straight Class B champion, and they’re going to be falling back to the pack this year.

When you win as often as Maranacook does, however, it takes more than a few graduations to dent the confidence.

“At the end of last year, coach (Steve DeAngelis) was saying ‘Everyone thinks we’re going to suck next year. We’re not going to suck,’ ” senior Carter McPhedran said. “He started this plan, he calls it ‘Operation Don’t Suck in 2020.’ I call it ‘Operation Be Great in 2020.’ I want that positivity.”

Positivity is in ample supply on the Maranacook team this season. The Black Bears are three-time defending state champions, but are playing the underdog role this year after losing pursuit (classical and skate together) champion Gabe Fein, Luke Bartol (second) and Bryce Trefethen (seventh), as well as Tate Mendall (16th).

Asked at Saturday’s Maranacook Wave Race how it felt not to be the team everyone else is chasing this time, however, McPhedran smiled.

“It’s totally fun,” he said. “Coming into the state meet, I know we’re just going to be hungry and we’re going to do our best. We’ll see what happens, but it’s going to be fun.”

At the same time, the Black Bears know a repeat of last year isn’t reasonable.

“We’re definitely not going to be at that level,” senior Brady Stockwell said. “But I still think we have greatness and potential to do well again this year.”

“We lost four seniors last year who finished in the top 10 in the state. You don’t replace those guys easily,” DeAngelis said. “It’s going to be hard. I don’t try to focus on ‘Oh, we’re going to win this, we’re going to win that.’ There are too many variables you can’t control about that. We really just try to focus on getting better every day.”

The question therefore becomes how good Maranacook can be, and the Black Bears still think they can be pretty good. One reason is the coach; the skiers know that in DeAngelis, who’s in his 34th straight year at the helm, they have someone who will find every way they can improve themselves.

“He takes the field and breaks it down into everything you need,” Stockwell said. “He talks to me about getting enough rest because I haven’t always been good at getting rest and eating well. … He’s always talking about hydration. He basically does a lot more than coach you on your skiing. He takes every aspect of your day, and (says) ‘Here’s what you’re going to do, here’s what you’ve got to do to be at the highest performance you can be.’ ”

Another reason is McPhedran, who was the classical race winner en route to third place in the pursuit last year. Now the Black Bears’ unquestioned leader, McPhedran was the fastest senior at the Wave Race at Quarry Road Trails Saturday.

“We all look up to Carter,” Stockwell said. “He’s the best skier in the state, basically.”

McPhedran downplayed any additional pressure on his shoulders this season.

“I don’t really focus on that too much,” he said. “I think because other teams’ expectations are kind of low of us, it’s kind of like we’re just going for it, and doing whatever we can.”

The key is the cast behind him. Stockwell (33rd in pursuit last year) and Max Olmstead (41st), a sophomore, are the Nos. 2 and 3 on the team, with Olmstead showing promise as another up-and-comer in the program. But everyone knows the key is finding the fourth skier, a role to be filled by a group including Will Colvin, Campton Tinkham and Zach Berg.

Stockwell said there was a push among those skiers to elevate their performance, knowing the responsibility they’d take on with the offseason losses.

“We definitely all felt that,” he said. “Throughout the entire summer, we met multiple times a week and worked out, got stronger, ran, got better stamina. We had that one goal in sight. We know it’s there. We’ve just got to work for it.”

States aren’t far away, but the Black Bears are ready for the challenge.

“If you look at it and look at getting ready for the state meet, it’s a long road for us,” DeAngelis said. “It’s not easy. … That takes time. We’ll get there. We have a really good tradition and really good leadership. We’ll keep working at it.”


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