Mt. Blue’s Addie Colello skates to the finish line during the Maranacook Waves Nordic ski race Saturday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Sassi Memorial 5K Cross Country Invitational is an event to be seen and heard for Nordic skiers who will be competing at Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford on Saturday.

Due to the impending storm, the girls race has been moved from 11 a.m. to 9:30 am. and the boys will begin at 10:30 a.m. To move the race along, there will be wave starts, with five athletes every 30 seconds.

For coaches and players alike, the classical race is one of the highlights of the season before Nordic skiers compete in state championships.

“The Sassi is a tradition,” Mt. Abram Nordic coach Sally Bean said. “Most of the high school programs in the state will be there, and it is an important midseason event to see where your team stacks up. The course is challenging and definitely separates out the strong skiers, and the crew at Black Mountain always puts on a great race.”

Bean said the Roadrunners are a small team that features a handful of quality skiers.

“On the ladies side, senior Emily Kidd is skiing very well and should have a strong race,” Bean said. “She will be backed up by freshman Autumn Pulk. For the guys, seniors Alex Hemingway and Cam Walters will be in the thick of it, with junior Jeff Warnock close behind.”

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Leavitt coach Dustin Williamson said the annual race is important because it’s an opportunity to remember former Mountain Valley High School skier Jon Sassi, who was killed in a car accident in 1990.

“He was a great Nordic skier and it is always a great event to honor him,” Williamson said. 

He added that the Hornets’ season has been enjoyable, and that the Sassi offers his top skiers, like Nathaniel Bell, Iris Petrin and Ali Dening, a chance to shine.

“We hosted the ‘mini’ version of the Roy Varney Hornet Classic (the other day) at the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center,” Williamson said. “It was super successful, great conditions, and an honor to race on the trails at the venue that Roy dreamed of.”

Oxford Hills coach Chris Easton said the Black Mountain course puts skiers’ conditioning and technique to the test.

“It is the only race in the state that has just about everyone participating at,” he said. “All of my skiers will be skiing at the Sassi. My top girl is a Lake Region skier (Eleanor Cowan) skiing with us because Lake Region doesn’t have a Nordic team. My top boys are Henry Swift, Grey Vanderwood, Nick Bancroft, Paul Rudman and Cam Sherbinski.”

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Dirigo coach David Buck said the Sassi Memorial is just another opportunity for skiers at all levels to perform on a world-class course.

“It gives the top skiers a venue to get themselves ready for Eastern qualifiers, and it gives less experienced skiers an idea of where they hope to be,” Buck said. “Hunter Berry has shown up well for us, with Logan Morris, another senior, showing improvement. On the girls side, Megan Spaulding and Vanna Williams have been battling it out for number one on the team so far.”

Mt. Blue coach Emmy Held looks at the Sassi as a celebration for the classical technique of Nordic skiing.

“There is such a long and rich history there,” she said. “Sometimes with younger skiers, they get more excited about skate skiing and the faster pace. It is just a classical race.”

Held said that Emma Charles and Brynne Robbins will not be at Sassi because they will be competing in an Eastern race, but sisters Bridget and Moriah Reusch, as well as Kamryn Joyce, Nora McCourt, Henri McCourt, Carson Zundel and Josh Smith will be on hand to compete for the Cougars.

CO-OP DRUMBEATER

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Gray-New Gloucester Alpine assistant coach Shad Hall is a firebrand when it comes to supporting co-op teams.

“This is our second year of actually having a girls team that we are actually able to score,” Hall said. “When I first started coaching here three years ago … we always had two or three girls, and you need four to count the scoring.

“Basically, we’ve got nine boys, eight girls and we have five seniors who have skied for us since freshman year. So it is pretty exciting.”

When St. Dom’s junior Natalie Brocke was looking for a team to ski with, the Patriots welcomed her to the Alpine team.

“She had such a good time with us that freshman year, she wanted to count for our girls team,” Hall said. “Couldn’t get the co-op in last year, when she was a sophomore.”

The Patriots established a co-op this year, and as Hall said, “It was awesome.” St. Dom’s freshman Brookelyn Whited also joined the Patriots skiers, who include Ella Fessier, Alana Harris, Olivia Knudsen, Una McDuffie, Avalyn Beaudin and Caitlin Butler.

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“(The co-op) has been huge for us,” Hall said. “If we were going to name a captain, we would name (Brocke) a captain. She has just been great.  She has been a huge asset to our team. Our whole team is awesome. Because she is at St. Dom’s and she works at Lost Valley, and like when we arrive by the bus from Gray-New Gloucester, she already has lift tickets for us.”

BACK IN THE FOLD

Maranacook coach Ronn Gifford received a pleasant surprise this season.

“From a Maranacook perspective, I would say one of the most exciting surprises this season is the strength and depth of our boys squad,” he said.  “With a return to skiing after a one-year absence of Alex Clark and Aidan Guimond, additional upperclassmen of Thomas Clausen, Bailey Shink and Chase McLaughlin, and particularly the addition of a strong freshmen class of Thatcher Riley, Adam Ellis, Josh Adams, Ben Jewett and Micah Sealsberry, the Maranacook boys squad is not only back in numbers, but improving every day and skiing strong.”

Gilman is also grateful there are two Winthrop Alpine competitors on the team.

“Another quick note would be the return of alpine skiing to Winthrop High School, with two skiers in William Grant and Jaxon August after a nearly four-year absence of Winthrop Alpinists,” Gifford said. “They are both hard-working and talented with first-half season finishes in the top 15 and 25 in the extremely competitive KVAC/MVC leagues. In the MVC league alone they are both finishing in the top 5-6 skiers. An outstanding pair and great to see Alpine skiing back at Winthrop High School.”

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SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

Mt. Blue Alpine coach Mark Cyr said the Cougars will leave it all out there toward the end of the season to prepare for the state championship.

“The idea is when we go to regular-season races this time of year, we are pushing the envelope,” he said. “We are going to see what we can and cannot do. If we fall down during a regular-season race, it really doesn’t matter all that much because they don’t count necessarily for standings.

“We go for it, and just before conference and state championships, we start pulling it back a little bit, saying, ‘OK, we want to make sure we get two runs in.’ That is the most important thing. Every year we kind of try to plateau just before conference and state championships. That’s what we are doing right now.”

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