Mt. Blue junior Emma Charles is one of the top Nordic skiers in the state this winter. The Cougars so far have competed in just one race this season. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The 2020-2021 ski season could be viewed as somewhat of a disappointment for the Mt. Blue Nordic team.

The Mt. Blue girls, led by standout Emma Charles, are the defending Class A champions. Although the boys team is rebuilding, Mt. Blue has been able to add some exciting new talent.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Cougars have only a possible Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference title to chase this winter.

The squads have competed in just one race this month, because of COVID-19 safety reasons or a lack of snow in some cases.

Second-year Mt. Blue coach Emmy Held has been able to keep her team’s focus sharp.

“We’re having a blast, trying to take advantage of every moment we get to be together,” she said. “We’ve only had one official team race so far. We’ve had three (races) canceled now due to one place not having enough snow, but kind of a lot of (COVID) restrictions on numbers. Also different schools, including us, going remote unexpectedly. There’s some definite challenges, but I think the team morale is good. I think every kid is just grateful to get to be doing a sport, to be with the team, and we’re having a lot of fun. I’ve been making up all sorts of games and time trials and things like that for them. The spirit (of the team) is just grateful and seizing every opportunity.

“It’s not necessarily redirecting from last year, because it’s always our goal every year to support every kid,” Held added. “But it’s nice that it seems to be something that all coaches agree on. Our focus right now is that the kids are okay, and we’re so happy that this can be a positive part of their life right now.”

The Cougars took the top four spots in their lone race this season — the Maranacook Skate Race on Jan. 15 at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville — with Charles, Brynne Robbins, Bridget Reusch and Kam Joyce enjoying big days. A junior, Charles swept the classical and freestyle events as a sophomore at the Class A championships last year at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington.

“It’s certainly not the focus, but it’s a little bit of  ‘wow, this team that dominated states last year is back and stronger than ever,'” Held said. “With fewer races, we have more time to just work on skills and work on all those things that are just getting better. It’s great, because it just means, whether we needed it or not, it’s a building year. I feel really lucky that the core group of girls I have, they’ll all be back next year, too. That’s pretty cool.

“We have a really talented group of kids. And I think about this, too. Any of our girls in that top group, Brynne, Bridget and Kam, if they were on a different team, there would be so many articles written about them, too, because they are absolutely standouts. On our team, it’s just such a deep team that sometimes they’re a little bit in Emma’s shadow, but these are some pretty incredible girls. I think we’re kind of making Maine history right now with the depth of this core group. I’m so grateful they have each other, pushing each other in training. It’s a really lovely dynamic that they manage to push each other and motivate each other and it’s always positive.”

The Mt. Blue boys, meanwhile, are continuing to progress, Held said.

“On the boys side, we lost a couple of our key players last year,” she said. “But this year, we actually have had a bunch of new kids join that are really motivated, really athletic, kind of got pushed into it by their friends that are currently on the team. Some kids coming from cross country and other sports. We now have a larger boys team than we actually had last year. Even though a lot of them are new, they’re really fast and picking it up quickly and their motivated and excited. It’s a little bit sad that we’re not going to see how they do this year in a state championship. But hopefully we’ll have KVACs and just getting out and having some races here and there is exciting. Those new folks are already catching the bug, even though it’s a weird year. They’re stoked to be a part of it

 

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Many area ski teams have also had to deal with another issue outside of the pandemic: A lack of snow in January — at least until the latest storm came blowing in Tuesday.

“’Frustrating’ would be a great word to describe it,” said Mt. Ararat Nordic coach Kevin Leighton. “Because of the lack of snow in the area, we’ve had some issues when it comes to training.”

The Eagles have been training mainly on dryland, usually spending their practice time running and roller skiing. Prior to a pause in athletics last week because of COVID-19 concerns, the Eagles would take a bus to the Quarry Road Trails every Wednesday night to get some time on the snow.

Tthe Eagles had had four meets postponed or canceled, and have only participated in one mee, at Quarry Road Trails.

“We have seven skiers who have never skied, so we have been spending some time getting them up to speed as well,” Leighton said.

Held said the recent snowstorm should help teams get in some races moving forward.

Maranacook’s Sophie O’Clair competes during a Nordic ski meet earlier this season in Waterville. Eli Canfield/The Times Record

“I’m optimistic about our remaining races happening,” Held said. “It is always difficult just when different teams are in different counties and the different districts have things that come up. It feels like the likelihood of one or more teams dropping out (of a race) is always there. We’re finally getting to a place of finally having a pretty good snow pack around here. I’m just home today because our school district has a snow day, and I’m watching the snow pile up outside and getting pretty excited.”

The KVAC/Mountain Valley Conference Nordic race at Lost Valley in Auburn was canceled on Wednesday, and Saturday’s race at the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner has been postponed to Feb. 16. The next scheduled race is Feb. 10 at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley.

 

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Alpine events have seemingly gone off without a hitch for area teams over the past two weeks.

Since Jan. 22, there have been three KVAC/MVC Alpine meets, two slalom events at Titcomb, one giant slalom race at Black Mountain in Rumford.

Maranacook’s Anna Erb has stood out, finishing second in the girls slalom in a Jan. 22 race at Titcomb, then winning the girls giant slalom event in a Jan. 29 race at Black Mountain.

Rangeley’s Bristol Quimby topped Erb in the Jan. 22 race, with a combined time of 1:34.71, nearly two seconds faster than Erb (1:36.33).

 

The Times Record staff writer Eli Canfield contributed to this report.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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