The last big Nordic high school ski meet before Saturday’s statewide Sassi Memorial involved 29 schools, more than 300 skiers and a surprising winner.

Not the North Yarmouth Academy boys. The defending Class C state champions turned in three of the 10 fastest times to easily outdistance runner-up Mt. Blue 36-52 in the Maranacook Wave freestyle race.

The winner of the girls’ race, however, was a team unfamiliar with podium placement. Portland High edged Leavitt, 48-49, with Maranacook in third at 54 and Mt. Blue, the seven-time defending overall Class A champion, in fourth another 33 points back.

“People were probably a little bit surprised,” said Aaron Duphily, the second-year coach of the Portland Nordic club, which includes skiers from Deering, Windham, McAuley, Cheverus and Thornton Academy in addition to those from Portland High. “But we had some good performances last year, so we didn’t come completely out of nowhere.”

True, the Bulldogs placed fourth of eight schools in the Nordic portion of the 2011 Class A girls’ state meet. They have a strong junior class, and two years ago finished seventh of nine schools.

When today’s juniors were in eighth grade, however, Portland didn’t even field a team at states.

Now the goal is hardware at next month’s state championships and, on Saturday at Black Mountain, solidifying Portland’s status among the state’s elite ski programs in the Sassi Memorial, which boasts more than 500 individual entries and also serves as a qualifier for the J2 (skiers born in 1996 and 1997) Eastern Championships, scheduled for March 9-11 in Rumford.

Last winter, Sadie Sarvis, Abby Popenoe and Lizzy Landry qualified from Portland High. Landry, a sophomore, remains J2 eligible, but Sarvis and Popenoe are too old. All three finished among the top 15 last weekend, and sophomore Laura Frank was 19th.

Led by Ben Allen’s fifth-place finish, the Portland boys placed 10th in last weekend’s race, formatted so freshmen ski against freshmen, sophomores against sophomores, etc.

As a student at Edward Little High in Auburn, Duphily skied in the Sassi, a classical race of five kilometers, before graduating in 2003. He went on to Cornell University, where he skied on a club team, before returning to Maine. He was a two-year assistant at Leavitt before taking over at Portland Nordic from Craig Whiton last season.

Many of the Portland girls play lacrosse in the spring. Duphily encouraged summer workouts that included roller-skiing and joining the cross country program in the fall. When the snow isn’t skiable at Riverside, the team trains at Deering High or takes to a city trail system that includes the Stroudwater Trail, Fore River Sanctuary and Presumpscot River Preserve.

“We’re fortunate to have all these great places we can go,” Duphily said. “We can do our hill workouts on the Eastern Prom.”

Portland’s focus remains the state meet, but the Sassi Memorial should provide a good barometer for the Bulldogs, as well as for other teams who are now well aware of the new kids in the tracks.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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