CONWAY — As the two-time state (and national) defending champions in high school ski jumping, the Eagles have a target on their back.
According to Kennett High Coach Chip Henry, whenever asked their goals for the season, rival Plymouth and Hanover jumpers say, "to beat Kennett." Based on the Pre-State results of last Feb. 6, a veteran Hanover roster looks to be the favorite. In action on the Plymouth home jump, the same site as this Thursday's scheduled State Championship meet (6 p.m.).
Hanover placed four jumpers among the top seven to take team honors with a score of 388, followed by Plymouth with 379 and Kennett at 367. Regular New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association team rivals from Sunapee and Concord did not make the trip, due to travel safety concerns.
Individually, Hanover's Evan Nichols, fresh off a ski jumping odyssey in Finland, maybe the man to beat; he took top honor at Pre-States with a two-best jump score of 104 points. Kennett's most veteran jumper, sophomore Zach Grzesik, leaped to the longest jump of the evening at 24 meters, but style points were not as strong as he took fourth place with 100.5 points.
NHIAA regular season meets and championship allows each jumper three jumps, with the best two counting, combining distance and style points for each jump's score. Grzesik worked on his form and distance on the large 70-meter jump at the Eastern Championships "Jumpfest" in Salisbury, Conn., last weekend, finishing eighth in the U16 division.
Henry acknowledges, at this year's State Meet, "We will have our hands full. We are a young group."
Most Kennett athletes are in their first or second year of jumping. Other boys soaring for the Eagles in the night meet, with their Pre-States score and finish, will be Griffin McAuliffe, 87.5, 10th; Sean Morgan 87, 12th; Parker Mustafa, 84, 13th; Evan Eldridge, 82.5, 15th.
Kennett and Hanover both will have four or more female jumpers. So there will be an unofficial girls team championship decided at the State Meet as well. During the regular season, girls and boys jumped as one team, and Elizabeth Koroski broke into the KHS top four on some occasions to earn open team points. Among girls at Pre-States, Hanover was victorious with 386.5 points, the Eagles were second at 366, and Plymouth, with only three girls jumping, finished third with 281.5.
Individually, Koroski led the KHS girls, placing seventh with 77 points, followed by Sylvie Brustin, ninth, 73; Nadia Van Dyne, 10th, 70, and Grace Ward, 12th, 43. Proctor Academy’s lone jumper, Ezra Taylor, took first with 90.5 and was joined on the podium by Hanover sisters Sophie Mitchell and Sabin Mitchell, who earned 90 and 84 points, respectively.
Sierra Abrams and Olivia Curry are also on the squad but did not jump in Pre-States.
With approximately seven inches of new powder dropped on the Plymouth jump Tuesday evening and into Wednesday, the Bobcats have been hard at work preparing the jump for Thursday, under the lights behind the football field at Plymouth Regional High School. Packing the snow on both the in-run of the jump itself and in the landing area is crucial to ensure safe conditions. Should the jump not be fully ready, postponement to Friday is the back-up plan.