Going into the Nordic skiing season, Maranacook’s Zach Holman was hoping it would be the Black Bears’ turn to hold the trophy. But at the same time, the senior knew the odds against him and his teammates.

Freeport was the defending champion, and the Falcons had their entire title-winning lineup back. Maranacook had to settle for third, and that was with a sweep in the classical and skate races from senior Luca DeAngelis, who was skiing his final race in yellow and black.

“I think we actually came in as the underdogs,” Holman said.

That such a term could have ever been applied to the Black Bears seemed unfeasible once the state championships concluded, with Maranacook holding four top-10 spots in the classical race, three in the skate and the overall team title. Leading the way in the victory was Holman, who won the classical and was second in the skate. For his performance this season, he’s the Kennebec Journal Boys Nordic Skier of the Year.

“Everyone on the team was willing to work really hard and be really dedicated,” he said. “Our whole team, they really wanted it and were hungry for the win. They put in the work and that’s why we won.”

Holman can speak to the virtues of hard work. A seventh-place finisher in the skate and 13th-place finisher in the classical last year, the senior worked over the summer to transform himself into a state champion. Long a proponent of running to stay in shape, Holman switched to roller skiing, allowing him to continue to build his endurance while also allowing him to practice his form. He also worked an outdoors job taking down barns, and hours of handling heavy lumber allowed him to build the strength that comes in handy in Nordic — particularly in the classical, where Holman needed to make the biggest jump.

“I would work eight-hour days essentially lifting wood all day, and then I would go roller ski for an hour, two hours after that,” he said. “It enabled me to put on the strength I needed to do well.”

By the time the season came around, coach Steve DeAngelis could see he had a stronger and more technically-sound skier, and one ready to step to the front of a team looking for a leader.

“We have a saying in Nordic skiing, ‘great skiers are made over the summer,’ ” DeAngelis said. “He just worked himself into far better shape than he was in last year. As he developed that strength, what followed was confidence, and he began to realize ‘I can do this,’ because he knew he was in great shape.”

While Holman saw his finishes improve, he did what he could to ensure his teammates had success as well.

“He was simply an amazing captain,” DeAngelis said. “He was constantly suggesting, ‘What do you think about this?’ He’d make training suggestions. He would notice things about his teammates’ technique or what was going on in their heads, and talk to me about how to help them.”

Holman didn’t need much help. He became Maranacook’s top skier, and finished second overall and first among Class B skiers at the KVAC championships. Next up was the state championship, where Holman had been hoping for a strong finish. Now, he eyed a win, and DeAngelis knew he could get it.

“When you look at someone who’s really on their game and skiing well at that time, they’re just fluid and they look almost like they’re floating when they ski, even though they’re working crazy hard,” he said. “He just looked awesome to me.”

The results showed it. Holman crushed the field in the classical, winning by 44 seconds, then held off Yacob Olins — one of the returning Freeport skiers — by two hundredths of a second for second place in the skate. Mark McLaughlin and Carter McPhedran followed with top-10s in both classical and skate, turning the Black Bears from underdogs in December into champions in February.

“One of the things I love about Nordic so much is that it’s not just one person,” Holman said. “Every other person on the varsity team played as big a role as I had.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM