For some Nordic skiers, Saturday’s Sassi Memorial holds more weight than next month’s state championships.
“It’s the only time we get to race against pretty much everybody in the state, which is exciting,” said Zoe Chace-Donahue, a senior at Merriconeag Waldorf School in New Gloucester.
“You see a lot of teams that you normally wouldn’t in the regular season,” said Silas Eastman, a senior at Fryeburg Academy. “So you get a good feel for how you stack up against the entire state.”
Last year’s field included 480 girls and boys. Eastman is the two-time defending champion of the 5-kilometer classical race hosted by the venerable Chisholm Ski Club at Black Mountain in Rumford. Runner-up Josh Espy of Waynflete is also back. Other top contenders among boys are Jack Pierce of Merriconeag, Ben Allen of Portland, Jay Lesser of Falmouth and Eli McCurdy of Freeport.
“I haven’t been too up on the results this year so I don’t know who’s skiing really strongly yet,” said Eastman, who plans to continue skiing next winter at Colby College. “I’m just excited to get there and go out and see who has a really good race.”
Among girls, Chace-Donahue placed fourth a year ago, when Sadie James, now a senior at Gould Academy but then a junior at Mt. Abram, won it.
“Sadie’s a really strong classic skier so I think she’s going to win (again),” Chace-Donahue said. “But I think I can do well.”
Other top contenders are Lizzy Martin of Freeport, Caroline Colan of Maranacook and Chace-Donahue’s twin sister, Emelie. Despite Merriconeag’s small size (total student population: 44), the girls’ Nordic team is unbeaten, beating the likes of Yarmouth, Falmouth, Freeport and other southern Maine schools with strong skiing traditions. Senior Teagan Wu, juniors Carlin Tindall and Lily Tupper, and sophomore Samantha Pierce round out the team.
Of course, sharing a campus with the Pineland Farms trail system has its advantages.
“It’s so awesome,” Chace-Donahue said. “You walk out of school and the trails are right there.”
Merriconeag’s boys have also been holding their own, finishing second to Yarmouth by four points Monday in the Stark’s Relays at Fryeburg, and beating the rest of the 11-school field.
Merriconeag Coach John Tarling contrasted his high school sports experience in South Portland, where he was a self-described average but eager participant.
“Playing time was very hard to come by for most,” he said. “Only a few players on major high school sports teams actually saw much game action.”
High school skiing is more inclusive, he said, “where all team members race and even new skiers are encouraged to participate.”
THE MPA ski committee is scheduled to meet Thursday in Augusta to go over details for next month’s state meets. Also on the agenda is a proposal in the future to hold Nordic and Alpine state championships during different weeks, so slalom and giant slalom events take place sometime other than February vacation, when larger ski areas are reluctant to give over a lodge to a horde of high school skiers and parents bearing crock pots and cupcakes.
The hope is more venues would bid on hosting the meets. A split championship might also increase appeal for skimeisters, who no longer would have to cram two Nordic and two Alpine events into three days.
Any change in the timing of the championships, particularly one that involves missing class time, would have to be approved by the full membership, said Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the MPA. The first opportunity is in March.
LEIKA SCOTT, the reigning Eastern high schools giant slalom champion and Class A slalom state champion, is no longer competing for Falmouth. She recently transferred to Carrabassett Valley Academy.
With only a four-girl team, Falmouth still managed to beat Gray-New Gloucester, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth in a slalom race Monday at Shawnee Peak, with freshmen Alex Shapiro and Krysia Lesniak going 1-2 to lead the way.
Another freshman, Dev Thomas, for the first time this season beat senior teammate Alex Gowan (giant slalom runner-up in Class A) in the same meet. They are scheduled to race another slalom Friday at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington.
YOU KNOW it’s cold when the Chisholm Ski Club cancels a high school classical race — as was the case Wednesday — because of frigid temperatures. Also canceled were a 5K race scheduled for Wednesday in Camden and a middle school 3K scheduled for Thursday at Black Mountain.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: