At first glance, it would look like the 2019-2020 winter season would be a rebuilding year for the Mt. Abram Nordic ski team.

The graduation of five of the team’s top skiers and an influx of new skiers may have been cause for concern. However, the early results have shown the Roadrunners still have the talent to compete with the best teams in the area.

“I think everybody ruled us out, because we graduated five seniors,” Mt. Abram coach Merit Bean said. “But we’ve surprised some people this year. We’ve been off to a good start, we’ve had some really good races.”

The immediate standout is sophomore Alex Hemingway, who finished sixth overall (17:18) at the Roy Varney Hornet Classic on Jan. 11 and seventh overall (14:43) at the Maranacook Wave Race on Jan. 18 at the Quarry Road in Waterville. He also finished 12th overall at Saturday’s Sassi Memorial at Black Mountain.

“(Hemingway) is right up at the top, skiing with all the best skiers in Class A, B and C,” Bean said. “He put his time in (with training) in the summer and the fall. He’s that guy on the team that (teammates) are chasing.”

Fellow sophomore Cam Walters has also shown consistent results early on for the Roadrunners, finishing 33rd overall at Sassi, and 23rd at the Maranacook Waves.

Bean added he’s excited about the newcomers on the roster, particularly freshman Jeff Warnock.

“He’s really excited about (skiing), he’s just a bundle of energy,” Bean said. “He’s very fit, we’ve just got to get some more technique in him.”

Bean was hired as the head Nordic coach for the University of Maine at Farmington last fall. On Saturday, Bean went with the Beavers to a meet in Presque Isle while his wife Sally — his assistant with the Mt. Abram program — took over duties at Black Mountain. The two teams have actually spent some time practicing with each other, and Bean said it’s been a positive experience.

“It’s excellent,” Bean said. “It just shows kids where they can go (after high school) and that there’s an avenue in college if they want. It’s been a great experience for them, and for me.”

 

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One of the challenges that comes with a Maine winter for high school skiers is getting acclimated to the elements.

This winter — like many recent Maine winters — has provided a roller coaster effect of mild temperatures at times, followed by days of well-below-freezing numbers.

Temperatures at the Maranacook Wave were particularly cold on Jan. 18, days after unseasonably warm weather, making it difficult for some skiers.

“It hasn’t been (this cold) this season,” Maranacook senior Maura Taylor said. “It’s been really, really warm, so it was kind of tough to get back in that zone of breathing and stuff. That was really hard today. I think everybody suffered with that.”

Taylor still had a respectable effort, finishing 21st (20:22.7) overall. Her teammate, Cambelle Nutting, had the best performance for the Maranacook girls, finishing 19th (20:14.2), while Sally Stokes finished 22nd (20:37.1).

Taylor believes the Black Bears, who finished fourth in Class B last year, have made strides this season.

“I feel like we’re in a lot better place than we were last year,” Taylor said. “We had a super-young team last year, and this year we have a lot of returning skiers that are looking super promising. I’m super excited, because I feel like we have a better chance of doing well at states and (the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships). We have four senior girls that are pushing really hard, and the rest are underclassmen that won’t quit, they’re just working really hard.”

Taylor said the team is aware it has a tough road ahead, especially at the KVACs against a talented Mt. Blue team.

“I think the goal is improving from last year’s finish,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be really tough to get ahead of Mt. Blue in KVACs, that’s going to be a tough thing. But I think just trying to improve is the main goal here. This team is really good because I don’t think we’re just oriented on winning states. It’s like ‘First we’ve got to improve technique, and agility and endurance.’ I think that’s going to benefit us.”

 

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Maranacook senior Carter McPhedran continues to stake his claim as the top boys Nordic skier in the state.

McPhedran finished first overall at the Sassi Memorial on Saturday with a time of 14:12.3, which was 34 seconds faster than second place finisher William Jordan of Deering.

It’s McPhedran’s second victory in one of the area’s top Nordic races this year. He also finished first at the Roy Varney Hornet Classic (time of 16:16.2) on Jan. 11 and finished third (13:26.8) at the Maranacook Wave on Jan. 18.

 

Staff writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this report.


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