Alpine ski teams are allowed six entries in the state championship slalom and giant slalom races. Last winter, Cape Elizabeth mustered only four girls with the help of a skimeister whose main focus was Nordic.
This year, the 10th since the school first offered Alpine as a club sport, the Capers are a legitimate threat to win the first Alpine ski team championship in school history.
“They know that is a possibility,” said Jeff Davis, promoted from assistant to head Alpine coach after last season, when Shawn Guerrette took over the Nordic program.
In three recent Western Maine Conference races (a slalom and two giant slaloms), Cape Elizabeth beat and tied Yarmouth (which shared the Class B Alpine state title with Mt. Abram last winter), beat overall Class C champ Freeport three times and lost by a point to Greely, the defending Class A state champ.
What’s more, five Cape Elizabeth skiers posted at least one top-five finish during that eight-day stretch. Emma Dvorozniak won slalom. Emma Landes won both giant slaloms. Sophie Hewitt was runner-up in slalom and turned in the fastest time of the day before falling in the second run and not scoring in the giant slalom loss to Greely.
Freshmen Kinnon McGrath (fourth in giant slalom Monday) and Caroline Paclat (fifth) also contributed. Of those five, only Dvorozniak competed in last winter’s state meet.
“It’s a good group of girls and they’re exciting to watch,” said Davis. “Everyone has a lot of fun. A lot of them do weekend programs so they’ve got a lot of experience.”
One not enrolled in a weekend program is Landes, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Her weekends are spent teaching younger skiers at Sugarloaf.
“So it’s kind of neat that she’s doing so well,” Davis said. “She’s been a very pleasant surprise.”
Sara Paclat, who placed seventh in the first slalom race of the season, is the only returning senior. Sophomore Haley Fawcett is the other holdover, with Dvorozniak.
Cape’s fourth skier in Monday’s giant slalom was another surprise. Senior Abby McInerney, a standout in lacrosse and field hockey, made her ski racing debut a solid one, finishing 20th in the tie with Yarmouth.
“Giant slalom is not as technical as slalom,” Davis said. “She had never raced before but she’s a pretty good skier.”
Davis, who grew up in Falmouth playing soccer, leaves questions of technique to assistant coach Claude Lemelin, who returned to the program last year after helping it get off the ground as a club sport.
As for Guerrette, he said he’s having fun with Nordic but that, “I find myself experiencing muscle soreness more frequently than I did with Alpine.”
MERRICONEAG’S NORDIC team continues to be competitive against schools with enrollments 10 (Yarmouth) and 20 (Falmouth) times its student population of just 37.
Eleven schools took part in a WMC Skate Relay on Monday at Stark’s Hill in Fryeburg and the fastest foursome for both boys (Tucker Pierce, Forrest McCurdy, Graham Roeber and John Burgess) and girls (Fiona Ahearne, Samantha Pierce, Lily Tupper and Carlin Tindall) hailed from the small Waldorf school that’s based in New Gloucester.
“They have one of the top boys’ and girls’ teams in the entire state,” said Fryeburg Academy Coach John Weston.
“They are doing it consistently every year now. They have an equally impressive middle school program – pretty big numbers and always top results. Not sure what their formula is, but if they could bottle it … ”
In fairness, Merriconeaug Coach John Tarling said Yarmouth did not run all of its top skiers in the relay. Even so, he said of his hardy bunch, “it’s pretty amazing they’re able to compete with the big schools.”
Tarling gave two possible reasons. First, Nordic skiing is part of the Merriconeag curriculum, so kids are exposed to it at a young age even if they don’t compete until later. Second, Merriconeag doesn’t have other winter athletic options such as basketball or hockey.
“So if you want to be on a competitive team,” Tarling said, “it’s running (in fall) and skiing (in winter).”
Also notable from Monday’s event: Deering fielded a full girls’ relay (four freshmen) for the first time in the program’s 14-year history.
“I’ve had full boys’ teams from Deering and a few girls’ skiers but never a full girls’ team,” said Coach Aaron Duphily.
TWO SISTERS who helped Merriconeag win Class C state titles in both cross country and Nordic skiing before graduating last spring are taking interesting gap years before enrolling in college.
Zoe Chace-Donahue is skiing for the Maine Winter Sports Center with an eye toward making the junior national team before matriculating at Bates.
Emelie Chace-Donahue is coaching the middle school team at Greely between three-month stints in Jordan (where she studied Arabic, Islam and Middle East politics) and Istanbul. She plans to attend Smith in the fall.
THE SASSI MEMORIAL 5K Classic race is scheduled for Saturday at Black Mountain. Last year’s race included 237 boys and 215 girls.
“What I like most about Sassi is that it brings the whole Maine high school skiing community together with just about every team in the state participating,” Duphily said. “It essentially serves as a de facto all-state meet in a similar manner to Festival of Champions in cross country. (It’s the only time during the course of the season where you’re able to see where you stack up against the entire state.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: