Fryeburg Boys Nordic State Champions

PRESQUE ISLE — The Fryeburg Academy boys’ Nordic ski team went into this year with two specific goals for the end of the season: Place

ADDING TO A TRADITION — The Fryeburg Academy Nordic ski team joined a rich Raider tradition by winning a state title last week at the Nordic Heritage Sports Club in Presque Isle. From 1947 to 2011, the Raiders have won 18 team state championships along with 74 individual titles. Pictured left to right are: Coach John Weston, Logan Gerchman, Dacota Griffin, Adam Armington, Paul Kurnick, Seth Eastman, Silas Eastman, Peter Caffrey and Coach Eric Ferguson.

three racers in the Top 5 at the state championship meet and win a state title.

Last Thursday, the Raiders accomplished both of those goals. Fryeburg Academy captured the Class A championship by dominating the nine-team field. FA finished with 34 points in the freestyle and 23 in the classic for an overall tally of 57 points. Mt. Blue placed second with 84 points, while Oxford Hills was third with 89. Other teams competing were: Greely 160, Leavitt 191, Edward Little 229, Deering 242, Hampden Academy 250 and Portland 283.

First up, the Raiders had to make the long haul to the Class A meet, which was held in Maine’s famously vast Aroostook County. It took the team seven hours to reach Presque Isle, where they stayed and raced over the three-day meet. Though a long drive, the ski conditions were ideal at the Nordic Heritage Center, site of the cross-country races.

“Just a few weeks ago this same venue welcomed the best biathlon skiers in the world as it held its second World Cup biathlon race,” FA Coach John Weston said. “Though the conditions were beautiful for the state meet, the courses were very challenging featuring technical downhills and long uphills with few breaks.”

The courses were the same ones used for the World Cup races, which are designed to test the best athletes in the world so they are certainly a challenge for any high school racer.

The first day of racing was a 5K skate race featuring a steep and twisting downhill section referred to as the corkscrew. This section had four 90-degree corners banked to 30 degrees. The Raiders had the unique experience of racing these very same trails just two years ago when they competed as a part of the Class B state meet also held in Presque Isle. Having been reassigned to Class A, they were the only team with experience on these trails. With that knowledge the team did a lot of downhill training to prepare — and it would pay off.

The FA boys entered the season knowing it would have three of the top racers in the state: Senior Seth Eastman, brother sophomore Silas Eastman, and junior Paul Kurnick. However, it takes four skiers to complete a team. The responsibility of being that number-four racer would fall onto second-year skier, junior Adam Armington.

As with any sports season there are multiple story lines and for the boys the biggest all year was the one/two punch of brothers Seth and Silas Eastman. Older brother Seth, who is larger framed and powerful, was the original top level skier in the family, highlighted by last year’s second-place finish in the state skate race. Younger brother Silas, who is a trim endurance machine, ran his way into the family spotlight this past fall when he won the state cross country running title, and started the this year’s ski season by beating Seth. That changed in the team’s conference championship skate race when Seth regained the family crown by winning the race. This would all set the stage for very exciting racing in Presque Isle.

As the afternoon skate race quickly progressed, Silas would be the first brother to pass the coaches’ split check, a little over 2K into the race. Silas was in first place at the split. About a minute later, Seth tripped the clock, but was almost eight seconds behind his brother.
“I told Seth what the gap was and somewhat figured he would settle into the runner-up position as 8 seconds is a tough gap to close with nearly half the race gone,” Coach Weston said. “However, Seth was there to win and as soon as I told him he was 8 behind Silas his pace quickened and his determination was clear. At the next split, at about 3.5K, the gap had closed to just a few seconds and it appeared as though it might be too close to call at the finish. It nearly was.”

When the final results were posted there was a buzz around as racers and spectators from other schools were heard saying, “Did you see how the Eastmans finished?”

The best news was that the brothers had won both the state championship and state runner-up titles, each besting the rest of the field by almost 30 seconds. However, the real story was that Silas had held off Seth’s surge, beating him by only three tenths of a second — 13:11.1 and 13:11.4.

“It was a bittersweet moment for Seth as he had to juggle being proud of his younger brother, whom he helped train, and that split second difference. People weren’t talking about them as individuals so much as they were as brothers and how the two were in a league of their own. It is a pretty neat story. For Seth to make up that time really shows his talent and determination,” Coach Weston said.

The bigger picture was still the team results. Paul Kurnick had an All-State finish in eighth place (14:17.1) and the ever-important fourth team skier was Adam Armington in 24th at 15:51.0 giving the boys 35 points and the lead over Oxford Hills with 43 and perennial powerhouse Mt Blue with 45.

“Adam had a big race and finished where we needed him to,” Coach Weston said.

Freshman Dacota Griffin was impressive finishing 34th at 16:57.8 in his first state meet and junior Peter Caffrey was just behind in 36th at 17:05.9.

“We had the lead but it wasn’t by much. We only raced against Oxford Hills and Mt. Blue once this year and we comfortably beat them both in that race; I was a little concerned when they finished so well in the skate. I later found out Oxford Hills was missing two of their top four skiers from that earlier meet. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the Classic race,” Coach Weston said.

Throughout the season, the Raiders had shown to be stronger in Classic, but with so many unknowns the FA boys would still need big races, especially entering the last race with a target on their back as the team to beat.

The Classic course was completely different and presented new challenges.

“The course starts at nearly the high point and just after the 1K mark you are at the low point. It is a screaming downhill out of the start with similar 90-degree banked turns as the skate course,” Coach Weston said.

The technical challenge is only the first issue; the bigger challenge would be for the coaches to figure out a way to keep kick wax on the skis. The snow was hard, fast and cold with bits of ice in it. It would be around 10 degrees at race time so finding a wax that would work would be one issue, but keeping it from all getting stripped off the ski by the abrasive snow and early downhill section was the real trick.

“We found a good solution which included adding layers of extra wax at the start line after the boys had warmed up. Assistant Coach Eric Ferguson was putting on extra wax seconds before they were starting. I think it made a big difference as a lot of racers had no wax by the last hill while we were still skiing strong,” Coach Weston said.

The drama of the Eastman boys was tempered for the Classic race as Silas had owned Classic racing all season. This was highlighted when he won the Sassi Memorial, the biggest high school Classic race in the State of Maine. Classic was also the stronger technique for Paul, Adam and first-year skier Logan Gerchman who would replace Dacota Griffin for this race.

With all the uncertainty going into the race any questions were quickly answered. The wax stayed on their skis as the FA boys convincingly won the race by 16 points and the Class A Nordic state title. Silas made winning look easy as he doubled as state champion, finishing in 14:35.8.

“The only negative from Silas’s race is that he started directly behind another top classic racer, Connor Regan from Greely (the only boy to beat Silas in a Classic race all season). Normally, this would be a positive but Silas caught and passed Connor which then allowed Connor to draft and pace off the faster skier for the remainder of the race,” Coach Weston said. “This certainly helped him take the runner-up position away from Seth (by a mere two-tenths of a second).”

Regan finished in 15:17.6 while Seth was third at 15:17.8. Paul Kurnick was an impressive fourth in 15:44.6.

“Paul’s got a ton of talent and is a natural skier and has a lot to look forward to for his senior year,” Coach Weston said.

Adam Armington had the race of his season coming in 15th at 17:20.8 and completing the team scoring.

“Adam had a lot of pressure on him. He knew that he was the real key to the team’s success. He took on that pressure and turned in a big race,” Coach Weston pointed out.

Not to be overlooked, Logan was not far behind in 20th at 18:02.2 and Peter in 29th at 18:48.3.

“I’m proud of all these boys. These were very tough courses and they proved they were the best skiers. They worked hard all season and deserved the reward,” Coach Weston said.

That reward would come in style as later that night, as the team finally made it back to their side of the state; the team bus was escorted through the streets of Fryeburg by the town police and fire department. The escort ended at the main building of the Academy where the boys rung the centuries-old school bell, a school tradition after an important team victory.

The FA girls’ team went into the race shorthanded by an unfortunate late season concussion by number-two skier Hannah Plowden. Regardless, the girls were led by four-year veteran and captain Aslyn Dindorf. Aslyn, an extremely dedicated and hard working student/athlete, had two top 15 finishes with a 13th in the skate at 18:23.6 (winning time was by Emily Ramsey of Mt. Blue in 16:36.9) and 14th in the Classic at 20:27.3. Hannah Allen of Mt. Blue was the overall winner inn 17:582.

“Aslyn is a true role model and leader and we’ll all miss her,” Coach Weston said.

Sophomore Emily Powers was 43rd in the freestyle at 26:21.7 and 37th in the Classic at 26:50.5.

Freshman Amber Dindorf was 37th in the freestyle at 22:53.6 and 35th in the Classic at 25:53.5.

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