TURNER — The Mt. Blue and Maranacook Nordic teams showed their championship form again. And they didn’t need all of their top guns to do it.

The Cougars and Black Bears prevailed at the Hornet Classic at Leavitt Area High School on Saturday morning, doing so by the slimmest of margins. Mt. Blue, led by a fifth-place finish from Isaiah Reid, edged Freeport, 33-34, to take the boys race, while Maranacook (69), Oxford Hills (90) and Leavitt (92) rounded out the top five.

“We had a really, really good showing by our guys team. They were all really consistent and really close together, which is good to see,” said Mt. Blue coach Jeremy Reed, who was filling in for head coach Claire Polfus, absent with a work meeting. “It’s a really strong program. Most of these kids have been skiing since they’ve been in elementary school. … We don’t have to teach them to ski. We just have to turn them into really good athletes.”

Maranacook, paced by a third-place finish from Abby Despres, topped the field in the afternoon girls race, edging Mt. Blue, 33-35, and also finishing ahead of Gould (50), Deering (54) and Freeport (93).

“Everybody likes to win, me especially. But it’s not really all about the winning, though,” Black Bears coach Steve DeAngelis said. “More importantly to me is, with the girls, we’re working on specific things, technique issues. And they’re doing a great job of that, they made really good progress today.”

At an event hosting some of the state’s top Nordic programs, the Cougars and Black Bears were the premier competitors. Mt. Blue won boys and girls Class A championships last year, while Maranacook’s teams were in the top three in Class B, with the girls winning a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship.

And even with notable names absent, both programs proved that they’ll be capable of competing for titles again. Mt. Blue was without its top skier in Tucker Barber, who was away competing in an Eastern Cup race, but Reid picked up the slack, coming in at 14:06.1 for the top-five finish.

The rain and warmer temperatures — which coaches orginally feared could threaten the race — instead added a coat of ice to the flat layout to make a fast track. A fast track is a thrilling track, and Reid, a second-year skier, had a beaming smile after he finished the race.

“I just went in and wanted to have fun, because it looked like a fast course,” he said. “It’s more fun. You get to work less hard and go faster, so it’s a little more exhilerating.”

Mt. Blue’s ample depth showed up, as Reid was followed right behind by Nolan Rogers (eighth, 14:19), Sam Stinson (ninth, 14:25) and Sam Smith (11th). It made all the difference, as Freeport had the faster first and second skier but had its fourth skier finishing three spots behind Smith.

“We have four or five guys who have all been skiing together in practice, and they’ve been training back-and-forth and kind of jockeying for position in our first couple of races,” Reed said. “It was fun to see who would step up and take (Barber’s) place, and Isaiah did a spectacular job. But Nolan and Sam Stinson both pulled in only a few seconds behind Isaiah and had really solid races, so it definitely wasn’t a one-man job.”

Maranacook began with a disadvantage as well as Zach Holman, slated to go out first, missed the race with an illness. But with Mark McLaughlin (third, 13:52) leading a scoring group made up of Luke Bartol (13th), Tate Mendall (21st) and Carter McPhedran (33rd), the Black Bears had enough to salvage the top-three finish.

“I didn’t expect such a good result at the beginning. I think the waxing was perfect. The coaches did a great job,” McLaughlin said. “The course was a lot of double-pole, which I’m pretty strong at.”

DeAngelis said the absence of his top skier was glaring, but that the rest of his group rose to the occasion.

“It would have been dramatically different if Zach had been there,” he said. “But at this point it’s not really how you place in my book, it’s ‘Are you learning to ski faster? Are you going to school on yourself and on other people every race?’ … I thought this was a great race for our kids. They had really good results, but they also really listened in terms of what I was hoping they would do.”

Maranacook had everyone on hand in the girls race, and the defending KVAC winners showed what could be a championship combination again. Despres led the way, finishing in 16:52, but the Black Bears had two other skiers in the top six in Laura Parent (fourth, 16:54) and Maddie Taylor (seventh, 17:14), while Camille Kavanah iced the top spot for the team with a 22nd-place result.

“It was just lightning fast. You hit that second lap and it feels like you’ve only skied 1K,” Despres said. “For our team, we’re always ramping up to the state meet. … Our team is really, really close. Our pack time is probably within a couple of minutes. With everybody able to push each other so closely in practice and during races, the team energy is just really high.”

“They’re really deep. Not just those four in the top (22), but then our fifth and sixth girls are 25th and 26th,” DeAngelis said. “That’s great. We’re skiing really deep right now, couldn’t ask for any more, really.”

The Mt. Blue girls showed an asset that could make them even tougher to beat than last year’s squad. Julia Ramsey, who had a strength-sapping bout with mononucleosis last year, had a breakthrough in her recovery with a second place finish, coming in at 16:08.

“Last year was a really rough year,” said Ramsey, who had to miss the KVAC and state meets last year. “I’ve been just doubting myself a lot about whether I’m still sick, how I’m feeling, and just being really anxious about that. Today was nice because I think I proved to myself that I’m actually healthy and ready to race the full season.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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