Concord Nordic skiing faces challenge for title

  • Bow’s Rachel Pelletier practices Nordic skiing at Bow High on Jan. 4. Pelletier was Bow’s top finisher, and sixth overall, in its season-opening meet on Wednesday at Proctor Academy. After being split into four small divisions for years, the NHIAA has realigned Nordic into two large divisions for this season, which will provide more competition when it comes time to ski for state titles. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bow’s Sophia Valpey practices Nordic skiing at Bow High on Jan. 4. Valpey was Bow’s second fastest finisher, and 14th overall, in its season-opening meet on Wednesday at Proctor Academy. After being split into four small divisions for years, the NHIAA has realigned Nordic into two large divisions this season, which will provide more competition when it comes time to ski for state titles. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bow’s Oliver Dolcino practices Nordic skiing at Bow High on Jan. 4. Dolcino was Bow’s second-fastest finisher, and sixth overall, in its season-opening meet on Wednesday at Proctor Academy. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bow’s Michael Pelletier practices Nordic skiing at Bow High on Jan. 4. Pelletier finished first overall in Bow’s season-opening meet on Wednesday at Proctor Academy. After being split into four small divisions for years, the NHIAA has realigned Nordic into two large divisions which will provide more competition when it comes time to ski for state titles. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord High senior Katie Watt practices Nordic skiing with her younger brother, Tyler, at the Beaver Meadow Golf Course on Jan. 5. Katie won the classic and skate races at the Division I championships as both a sophomore and junior, and finished first overall in Concord’s season-opening race on Friday. Tyler finished first overall for the Concord boys’ team in that race. The Tide has won 12 straight Nordic titles on both the boys’ and girls’ side, but that streak could be in jeopardy this season as the NHIAA has realigned Nordic from four small divisions to two larger ones. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Concord High’s Katie Watt pulls ahead of Manchester Memorial’s Morgan Nault during the 2020 Division I Nordic championships at Great Glen Trails in Green’s Grant. Watt won both the classic and freestyle races, with Nault second in both, and both the Concord boys’ and girls’ teams won their 12th straight team titles. Watt is back this year for the Tide, but those championship streaks could be in jeopardy this year as the NHIAA has realigned Nordic from four small divisions to two larger ones. JIM GRAHAM / Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/16/2021 5:46:55 PM

After years of competing for championships in four tiny divisions, high school Nordic skiing has been realigned into two large groups.

“Reorganizing the NHIAA cross country ski teams into two divisions is a great change for the sport,” said Chris Naimie, who is in his 18th year as the Nordic coach at Bow High and is one of the leading voices for Nordic in New Hampshire.

Concord High Nordic coach Sam Evans-Brown agrees with Naimie, even if it jeopardizes the Crimson Tide’s skiing dynasty.

“I think it’s good all around. It will make the divisional championships competitive, which will push our skiers to be faster,” Evans-Brown said. “The only downside is the possibility of this meaning we will break our streak of winning championships, but what does a streak mean if you’ve got no strong competition?”

The Concord boys’ and girls’ Nordic teams have each won 12 straight Division I titles. It’s an incredible run at first glance, but taking a closer look shows that the Tide boys’ team won last year’s championship against a field of just five other teams, and the girls’ team won against only four other teams (Manchester Central had a boys’ Nordic team but not a girls’ team).

Most of Concord’s other titles were won against similarly small fields, but those days are done. This season, the old D-I and D-II have essentially been combined into a new, 15-team D-I that includes powerhouse ski schools like Hanover and Kennett, which won the 2020 D-II boys’ and girls’ titles, respectively.

“We’ll have to race Hanover, who last year had a very strong team,” Evans-Brown said. “My hope is that some of our borderline skiers who are not all in might get excited about improving and start putting in the extra effort required to improve, once they see how fast they will need to be.”

The old D-III (which was made up of just five schools in the 2019-20 season) and D-IV (seven schools last season) have been basically been combined to form the new 15-team D-II. That new division naturally includes the 2020 D-III boys’ champ (Fall Mountain) and girls’ champ (Kearsarge) and the 2020 D-IV boys’ winner (Inter-Lakes) and girls’ winner (Hopkinton).

“I think our kids realize that the pond just got a lot bigger, and they will need to work extra hard to accomplish what they have done in the past,” Hopkinton coach Rob Rothe said. “Many of the athletes are also on the cross country (running) team and are used to competing against a lot of teams, especially in the large D-III group.”

Rothe is also the cross country coach at Hopkinton and helped the Hawks win D-III girls’ cross country titles in 2018 and 2020 against a field of 33 teams in D-III.

The Hopkinton girls’ Nordic team already has a win under its belt this season as it took first in a five-team classic race at Proctor Academy on Wednesday, finishing with 391 team points to beat out Kearsarge (375), Bow (368), Souhegan (343) and Sunapee (252).

Francie Trafton led the Hawks with her first-place finish in 13:14.3, which put her nearly a minute ahead of Kearsarge’s Molly Ellison, who was second in 14:09.2. Hopkinton’s other scorers were Ava Rothe (third, 14:27.7), Cate Westbrook (fourth, 14:48.1) and Hannah Bennett (fifth, 15:27.8), and the Hawks showed off their depth by placing four more skiers in the top 11 – Elizabeth Clarner (seventh), Audrey Davis (eighth), Clara Locke (ninth) and Elizabeth Trafton (11th).

“The girls team lost two of their top scorers from last year, but with their depth, strength and leadership, they should be able to remain a strong force,” coach Rothe said.

Kearsarge, which has won five straight D-III girls’ Nordic titles, now knows what it’s up against in the new D-II. After Ellison, the Cougars got points from Ayla Frenkiewich (10th), Katelyn Harvey (12th) and Hannah Marcum (18th).

Bow’s Rachel Pelletier finished sixth, the top result for the Falcons. Sophia Valpey (14th), Madeline Michaelis (15th) and Isabella Parisien (16th) also scored for the Falcons.

Bow, which finished fourth in last year’s D-III boys’ championships, took first in Wednesday’s boys’ race at Proctor Academy with 385 points to beat out Kearsarge (376), Hopkinton (372), Sunapee (258) and Souhegan (89). Bow’s Michael Pelletier and Ben Neff finished 1-2 to lead the Falcons, Pelletier in 12:40.7 and Neff in 13:22.3. The Falcons other points came Oliver Dolcino (sixth) and Calen Smith (11th). Konrad Kremzner (14th) and Justin Murphy (16th) both skied well for Bow but did not score.

Kearsarge won three straight D-III Nordic boys’ titles from 2017-19 and finished runner-up last year to Fall Mountain. The Cougars placed seven boys in the top 15 on Wednesday at Proctor to finish second and display some good depth – Evan Pauling (fourth, 13:33.9), Andrew Blagden (seventh), Jacob Poltack (eighth) and Hunter Stanchfield (ninth) all scored, while Sean Stanchfield (10th), Camden Dezotell (12th) and Ethan Lamb (15th) also had good showings.

Michael Eggers-Emerson (third, 13:25) and Matt Clarner (fifth, 13:37.5) led the Hopkinton boys’ to their third-place finish on Wednesday. The Hawks, who finished second at the D-IV championships last season, also got points from Liam O’Brien (13th) and Nate Lewine (29th).

“The boys are rebuilding their team with a large group of incoming freshmen and underclassmen this year,” Rothe said. “They are a young bunch but have a lot of potential.”

The Concord Nordic teams opened their season on Friday with a four-team freestyle race at Proctor Academy. Concord’s Katie Watt, who won both the classic and freestyle races at the 2019 and 2020 D-I championships, looks to be in great shape to start the season as she finished first overall in 14:22, well ahead of second-place Katherine Gage from Derryfield, who crossed in 16:00.2. That was just 0.7 second ahead of Concord’s Mathea Graham, who took third.

The Tide’s other points came from Alexis Christie (fourth, 18:01) and Gracie McHugh (fifth, 18:28.5) as the team finished with 391 points for the win ahead of Winnacunnet (359), Derryfield (194) and Kearsarge (185). Concord also got top-10 results from Maggie Cooper (sixth), Katherine Martel (eighth) and Colette Brochu (10th). Kearsarge only had two skiers at the race, Ellison (ninth) and Harvey (14th).

The Concord boys’ team wound up with 384 points to finish second to Derryfield by just one point, a result that may have been different if the Tide didn’t have two of its top skiers out due to COVID protocols.

Still, Concord had the top two finishers in Tyler Watt (first, 13:11.6) and Eben Bragg (second, 14:01.7), two more skiers in the top 10 in Liam Gleason (eighth) and Jacob Gurtner (ninth), and two more that had strong showings in Anthony Lombardi (11th) and Sebastian Nichols (12th).

“If (Gleason) had skied one second faster, we would have nipped Derryfield,” Evans-Brown said, “but we got 25 kids outdoors for two hours in a pandemic. Who can complain?”

Bishop Brady is the other local school with a Nordic program, but the Giants and first-year coach Tina Price aren’t too concerned about the division realignment or what that might do to state title chances. There are currently six student-athletes on Brady’s Nordic roster, and Price hopes they learn and enjoy themselves this season so that numbers can grow in the future.

“Race results, clearly, are not what we are looking for,” said Price, who used to coach Nordic at Moultonborough, which has a strong history with the sport. “I am looking for Brady to contribute to a great Nordic skiing community here in Concord. I am hoping to be an ambassador for this great lifelong sport, while helping the team to gain fitness, skill and camaraderie that attracts more skiers every year.”




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