FRYEBURG — When it reached mid-January and Maine had not cleared cross-country skiing for any activity due to COVID-19 restrictions, things looked bleak for the Fryeburg Academy Nordic skiers. So completing a Western Maine Conference championship on the home course of Stark's Hill on a blue-bird day with great racing conditions on March 6 was a real treat.
Raider Alanna Nataluk, a junior, made the most of the opportunity, garnering conference champion laurels for the second consecutive year in a time of 16:53.8 over the two lap, 5.7K course. Team-wise, Fryeburg girls took fifth place on the day, while the boys were seventh in the conference championship.
The boys skate race began promptly at 10 a.m., with 63 masked skiers crossing the start line in 15 second intervals. Meanwhile, the girls warmed up at an entirely separate part of the Nordic complex, keeping the meet within COVID group gathering size limitations.
The earliest racers had a very firm and fast course, in which Harvey Leif of Greely, 13:49.4, Aksel Yeo, Yarmouth 14:31.6 and Conrad Anderson, Maine Coast Waldorf School (MCWS) 14:38.8 earned the top three spots.
Junior Luke Dupuis led the Raiders with an eighth place finish in 15:00.8. The Freyburg team was rounded out by Andrew Irwin, 46th in 20:31.2, Chris Kwon 51st in 21:21.4 and Yoo Brian, 60th in 25:36.2.
The Raiders team tally of 678 points was well behind the winners, Yarmouth with 780, and the tie for second between MCWS and Gray-New Gloucester at 752.
After 63 boys racers switched places with the 41 racers in the girls meet, the girls first racer hit the course by 11:15 a.m. Nataluck secured a 7-plus second victory over second place Emma Haims, MCWS in 17:01.0. Madeline Marston of Yarmouth rounded out the podium in third with a time of 17:14.2.
Fryeburg Coach John Weston reported that his sole senior, Samantha Carus, "was pleased with breaking into the top 20," finishing 19th in 20:44.6. She was followed by Lily Amazeen, 33rd in 26:48.9 and Kacey-Jane Clark, 34th in 27:08.8 completing the FA racers.
Yarmouth garnered team gold with 767, by one measly point over silver medalist MCWS with 766. Not far behind, Greely completed the podium with 760 points. The Raiders 721 points earned them fifth place honors.
For Coach Weston and his team, "from week-to-week, we did not know what to expect," during the COVID-shortened race season. With only two regular season meets under their skis, (one race was canceled due to weather), the Raiders once again proved to be the best host-site for the conference meet, blessed with enough March 6 snow for a fast freestyle race. Unfortunately, snow depths did not allow for grooming to make tracks for a classical race at conference championships.
But "just racing at all was a positive," according to Weston, who noted that when finally on snow in late January, the silence among his masked skiers was eerie at practice. Normally a coach may have to quiet skiers to give training instructions, but not at the start of training in this somewhat surreal season. Weston reported he was "really pleased to finally hear laughter" after a few weeks of skiing, as a sense of normalcy returned.
With Carus, the lone senior graduating, and with a hoped for return to more normal racing conditions, Weston noted that the 2021-22 Nordic season can only get better for the Raiders.