RUMFORD — Like a number of his fellow cross country skiers, Maranacook’s Carter McPhedran had the choice of competing in two elite Nordic events on Saturday, an Eastern Cup series race in Craftsbury, Vermont, or the Sassi Memorial at Black Mountain.

Inspired by the last person to stand atop the podium at the prestigious Sassi, McPhedran chose the latter.

“Roy Varney won this last year,” McPhedran said. “Roy had the same choice last year and he decided to stay.”

McPhedran said he wanted to honor the memory of his friend Varney, a Leavitt Area High School graduate, who died in a farm accident last July.

“I really wanted to come here and do well here for him,” McPhedran said.  “(The Sassi is) a big deal. It feels really good.”

McPhedran, the 2019 Class B state classical champion, won the boys race in 14:12.03. Deering’s William Jordan (14:46.5) was second, followed by Portland’s Liam Niles (14:48.1).

Eva Clement of Falmouth won the girls race in 16:50.4, while Brynne Robbins (17:26.9) of Mt. Blue edged out Deering’s Megan Cunningham (17:27.6) for second.

McPhedran, Clement and about 400 other competitors had to push through erratic conditions and weather to complete the 5-kilometer classical race.

Wax teams earned their keep by preparing their competitors’ skis for mild temperatures and an icy course for the girls race, and later a light snowfall that greeted the boys just as the started to line up in the chute for their race.

“It’s been a crazy wax day,” said Clement, a junior. “We have a great wax team and our coaches did a good job with that. I think that’s the biggest difference.”

“The conditions were a little weird,” McPhedran ssaid. “The wax was tough to get right. It was sticky outside the tracks, but inside the tracks it was real fast.  I decided on less wax and I’m glad I did.”

McPhedran, who won the Junior Sassi race when he was in eighth grade, said he was “basically running up hills” on the course and was relieved that his skis didn’t stick once he reached the top of those hills or on the way down.

Jordan wasn’t quite so fortunate, suffering a fall about one kilometer into the boys race.

“I’ve raced here before, and I love this course, so that was a little frustrating. But it was good to overcome it,” he said. “My skis were icing up a little, but the wax team came through.”

“It was pretty good for up the hills, but when you get to the top of the hill you’ve got to kick it off,” Clement said of conditions earlier in the day. “There’s definitely some technical difficulties, but I thought it was a good race.”

Knowing when to save energy and when to expend it was a key for the top competitors. So was knowing that the course’s most daunting challenge, High School Hill, loomed at about the 4-kilometer mark.

“High School Hill is definitely a big part of this course, so you’ve got to save a little bit of energy for there. That’s where you’ve got to kick it into gear,” Clement said. “It was kind of difficult for me because I was out in front so I didn’t have anybody to pace off of, but I was working the course. I think I can push myself pretty well. The coaches out there were giving me some splits, which was really helpful.”

Racers hit the course at 15-second intervals and Robbins, who followed Clement in the chute, kept her in her sights for most of the race.

“I was very fortunate. They gave me ‘zero’ skis,” Robbins said, referring to skis specifically designed to add grip in icy conditions. “They had the kind of kick zone on them that you want in these conditions. I went out and tested them this morning and it went pretty well.”

Robbins said she derived inspiration from last year’s girls winner, Mt. Blue teammate and close friend Emma Charles, who was in Vermont for the Eastern Cup.

“I kind of wanted to represent her and do justice for her,” she said.

Other local top-10 finishers among girls were Mt. Blue’s Bridget Reusch (seventh) and Leavitt’s Jaidyn Negley (eighth).

Mt. Blue’s Evan Hornbach (eighth) and Edward Little’s Ben Condit (ninth) were top-10 boys finishers.


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