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Ski championship week means a local run on hardware

It’s officially ski week in New Hampshire – or championship week, as has become the case for several area high schools.

Whether by going downhill or over a trail, local teams have used the state championships as the precursor to adding another trophy to the hardware collection. The Concord Nordic, Hopkinton Nordic and Bow Alpine and Nordic teams are defending titles this season, and trying to extend stretches of dominance, as well. The Hawks have won nine straight girls’ titles and nine out of 10 boys’ championships. The Crimson Tide boys and girls have matching five-year streaks going. And the Falcons have two straight boys’ titles and four straight girls’ titles in the books for Nordic, as well as three of the last four boys’ Alpine championships to their name.

For these teams, it can seem from the outside like this week is automatic. The coaches feel otherwise.

“We ski the races for a reason,” Bow Nordic Coach Chris Naimie said. “Depending on the day (the skiers) are having, the race can go either way.”

There’s evidence behind that belief. Skiers can fall. Health can be a variable. And weather can throw a curve, as it did in the middle of last week when a storm dumped an approximate foot of snow after a season that hadn’t seen much of it in the later weeks.

It makes for a mix of favorites, underdogs and unpredictability as the year comes to a close. Here’s the outlook for the two disciplines.

Nordic

Being a champion – and remaining one – requires more than talent. Preparation is key, as is finding a routine that brings out the best in the skiers.

Hopkinton Coach Rob Nadeau has those bases covered. The Hawks travel to Gorham, site of host venue Great Glen Trails, a day early to store up on rest, and ramp down the strain of practices to store up on freshness.

Seventeen of the last 18 Division IV titles suggests it works.

I think for the kids, they feel a little bit of pressure, to keep the streak alive, so to speak, or to get it rolling again in the boys’ case,” Nadeau said. “They understand the banners hanging in the gym and they don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak or anything like that.”

There shouldn’t be much to deny title No. 10 for the Hawks girls, a stacked team led by Sarah Nadeau and Caroline Sweny and also looking for contributions from Katie Irwin and Mary McAuliffe. Things are more dicey on the boys’ side, where the Hawks, led by Owen Kanter and Dom Repucci, will likely be neck and neck with Inter-Lakes, with season times projecting the Lakers to be the favorite.

“With my guys, anybody in the six can score for us on any given day, so we may need to balance, keep a kid out of one race and put a fresh kid in the next race to give us a better chance,” Coach Nadeau said. “We’ll see what happens in the morning.”

The Hawks have become a Nordic giant, but they’re hardly alone. The Concord girls figure to be a dominant force in Thursday’s championship, and showed their strength by beating 17 other teams last week to finish first in the season’s NH Series races (an pair of events that combines boys’ and girls’ scores to determine the state’s best overall team). Erin Waters has been the Tide’s top skier all year, and the junior leads a terrific group that also includes Kate Andy, Jessica Nelson and Michealla Conery and puts the Tide in the driver’s seat for a sixth straight championship.

The Concord boys finished ninth in the Series race but have an advantage heading into the championship meet – Nate LaTourette finished first overall in the event and is one of the top Nordic skiers in the state. Josh Pifer, Caleb Seymour and Jamie Wilkes join him at the top of a list of skiers who will try to bring Concord another trophy.

The Bow Nordic teams will both be fixed on another title, with the boys, who are led by Mitchell Blair (16th in the Series race) and David Merchan (21st), hoping to fend off an improving White Mountains team and a strong Gilford squad.

“Our boys are definitely one of the top three teams in our division,” Naimie said. “But they are going to be hard-pressed to compete with the other two teams. It’s going to be a fun meet.”

The Bow girls will be the favorite Thursday, and are led by a pair of skiers in senior Naomi Kramer – a three-time individual champion – and junior Lilly Naimie who will be duking it out for first place overall.

“The two of them will be battling it out, with other girls from White Mountains and Gilford, for the top spots,” Coach Naimie said.

That isn’t to say there won’t be question marks across the divisions. A period without substantial snowfall kept the longer, more demanding classic-style race from being an option during the bulk of the regular-season races. On Thursday, however, the classic race – aided by the recent snow – will be part of the deal, introducing a variable into the championship formula.

“It has a phenomenal effect on the psychology of racing,” Naimie said. “When you’ve only had one real event in that discipline, it’s hard to really speak about a reference from last year.”

Some things, however, don’t change. As always, preparation will determine the winners.

“The kids are aware of the type of challenge we face,” Naimie said, “and they’re working hard and smart to make sure that they’re the best prepared they can be to go out there and ski the race of the season.”

And don’t forget ski jumping, part of the Nordic realm. Hopkinton finished third last year and is looking to move up into the top two to take home some hardware on Friday. Defending champion and host Hanover appears the team to beat, having swept the top six places at Saturday’s pre-state meet. Hopkinton was second on Saturday, and Concord, which finished sixth last year, was fourth with its own eye on improving from a year ago.

Hopkinton’s James McCluskey could challenge for the individual title.

Alpine

The race of the week could be in Division III, where the Bow boys’ team is looking for another title but will get a stiff challenge from rival Bishop Brady, which has been dominant in several races this year. It’s Coach Bob Nevins’s first year at the Falcons helm, and he said the key for his team is getting past the mental challenges – as well as the physical – that come with the championship.

“Half of it is psychological,” he said. “Anybody can learn technique, but being able to use that technique when you really need to, at the states, is key.”

Nevins’s group is led by a quartet of strong skiers in Sam Morrow, Patrick Hughes, Logan Whalley and Phillip Rizzi, but the Falcons will have their hands full with Gilford and Brady, which beat Bow twice in two weeks and packs considerable firepower in Suni Choi (who won both races) and brothers Danny, Jack and Brendan Bryck.

“They have no fear. They like to go fast,” Coach Sal Alosa said. “They just go for it, and it’s full throttle all the way through to the finish.”

With both teams having skiers with first-place hopes, the difference could come down to depth, and which teams do the best job of keeping their skiers upright.

“Everybody has their superstar. It’s all about getting the third, fourth and having that fifth for a possible alternate to score in for the total races,” Alosa said. “It’s going to be very interesting. As long as everybody stays true and stands up … I think it’ll be a good battle for Division III.”

Bow’s Danielle Gould is a candidate to win the Division III girls’ race, but the two favorites for the title are Brady and Prospect Mountain. Brady is led by Elisabetta Caldesi, who like Choi won both races, and boasts skilled skiers right behind her in Jill Thomas, Jill Dirkin, Nadia Crainich and Gabby Eaton.

The key, Alosa said, will be the same as it is with the boys: Finishing is paramount.

“It’s the whole idea of keeping people on the same wavelength and (mindset) that it’s down the hill to finish,” he said. “That way the times go through, and that’s what’s going to win the race.”

In Division I, Concord will aim to improve on fourth-place finishes, with Liam Healy the top skier for the boys and Jess Malfait the leader on the girls’ side. Hopkinton, which is led by strong skiers in Jake Hemmerlein, McCluskey and Colby Tawney on the boys’ side and Meg Hemmerlein and Melissa Irwin on the girls’ team, will also look to finish near the top after fourth- and third-place finishes, respectively, a year ago.

John Stark and Pembroke will look to surprise in Division II, with the Stark boys managing a seventh-place finish a season ago.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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