The University of Maine at Farmington Nordic team usually limits its competitions to weekends so its athletes don’t miss any class time. But the Beavers are glad to make an exception this week.

The team is in Bend, Ore., for the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) national championships, which continue through Saturday at Mount Bachelor. Competition begins Tuesday with the 7.5k classical.

A club program with varsity status, the freshman-laden Nordic team has been a revelation. With several athletes recruited from the school’s cross country running team, the Beavers competed against the University of Maine, Bates, Bowdoin and Colby in the USCSA Eastern Conference’s Reynolds Division (named after longtime UMF ski team coach Tom Reynolds).

“It’s been kind of nice to watch the evolution of this group of kids as this winter has gone along and watch them grow as competitors,” coach Scott Hoisington said.

Led by freshmen Emily Ramsey, Ellie Pinto and Alisha Labbe, the women’s team qualified for nationals after finishing fourth at the USCSA Eastern Regional Championship at Smuggler’s Notch in Jericho, Vt. on Feb. 21.

Ramsey finished sixth out of 30 qualified racers in the 8.5k interval start and fourth overall in the 15k mass skate. Labbe finished 17th in the 8.5k intervals and placed ninth in the 15k. Pinto came in 24th in the 8.5k interval start.

In the 0.8k sprint qualifier, Ramsey placed sixth and Labbe finished 14th.

UMF also had two men qualify as individuals with strong performances at regionals in Vermont: Juniors Bryce Neal and Joshua Richards.

Neal finished 20th out of 42 racers in the 8.5k interval, 27th in the 15k mass skate, and 24th in the 0.8k sprint qualifier. Richards took 37th in the 0.8k sprint and 32nd in the mass skate.

Neal said he was surprised to learn he’d qualified for nationals after his performance at Smuggler’s Notch.

“There were a lot of very good skiers there who have athleticism and technique and are far better than I am as a skier,” he said. “I’m happy with my results, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.”

Neal competed in Nordic at Gray-New Gloucester High School, finishing in the top 20 in the Class B state Classical race as a senior. But he’s been more focused on the slopes than the trails during his collegiate career.

“I’ve been way behind the pack in Nordic skiing,” he said. “I’d never met anybody on the Nordic team before but it’s been an interesting experience.”

Hoisington credited Ramsey, a Mt. Blue alum, with recruiting new skiers to the team before the season. Ramsey, who spent two years at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, also coordinated training and coaching of the team during the season.

“Julia’s been excellent. She kind of rallied the team around her and really provided a lot of direction and technique work for them,” Hoisington said.

Hoisington believes this is the first time a UMF Nordic team has qualified for nationals. The Beavers will also compete against 15-20 other teams in Wednesday’s freestyle sprint qualifier and the 15k free skate on Friday.

Regardless of how they finish, Hoisington is excited about the long-term impact on the skiers and recruiting for the entire ski and snowboarding program at UMF.

“For the skiers, it will give them some good exposure to a fairly high level of competition. My hope is that they see that competition and come home excited about it and train a little bit harder and come back next season a little bit hungrier,” he said.

Neal couldn’t wait to ski on Western snow for the first time and hit the trails with some of the best collegiate Nordic skiers in the country.

“I’m just going for the experience,” he said. “There are going to be so many schools there and so many good skiers. I’ll be competing with some of the best skiers in the nation. I’m going to do the best I can.”

The USCSA will be streaming the national championships live on the USCSA Broadcast Network, or follow the races on live-timing.com/races.php.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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