The 2017-18 ski season was a painful one for Mt. Blue junior Sam Smith.

Physically, that is.

Smith fought through a back injury for most of the season but saved his best performance for last, finishing sixth in the classical race and eighth in the freestyle at the Class A Nordic championships. His efforts helped lead the Cougars to their third consecutive boys Nordic title.

For his production, Smith is the Morning Sentinel Boys Nordic Skier of the Year.

Smith first suffered his back injury in January. The work needed to just get him on skis during the week was a grind.

“I was going to the chiropractor three times a week,” Smith said.

But it was still difficult to get through races without being in pain. A strong, flexible back is needed to get through Nordic competitions. It was an especially grueling season for Smith, who also participated in Alpine events on top of Nordic races.

“For the whole season, I wasn’t really able to ski at 100 percent,” Smith said. “Right around states, I started feeling better. At states, I was very happy with how I was able to perform. But throughout the season, my flexibility wasn’t there, and it just hurt to do, especially classic. The day after most classic races, I’d be in a lot of pain.”

Mt. Blue Nordic coach Claire Polfus was impressed with Smith’s effort throughout the season while dealing with his injury.

“I think anybody who knows Sam knows he’s a remarkable athlete,” Polfus said. “Not only is he athletically gifted, but he has that mentally of gritting it out. He always comes through, and that’s what is really cool about him, he’s always putting (his best effort) out there. I think he was frustrated that his injury prevented him from pushing himself as much as he could.”

Thankfully for Smith, the Mt. Blue boys team had several skiers step up throughout the season, including Sam Stinson, Dominic Giampietro, Mick Gurney and Jesse Dalton, to name a few. The team effort was special for Smith, who shares a bond with fellow classmates Stinson, Gurney and Giampietro.

“We’ve been skiing together since fourth grade,” Smith said. “We’ve always skied together. This year was one of the first years where all of us were the top skiers on our team, the first time we really showed what we got…It just shows how much depth we have and how close we are together.”

Smith’s back improved heading into the state meet, and it showed with his production. He finished the classical race with a time of 16:42, less than a minute behind champion Roy Varney of Leavitt. He was just as productive in the freestyle, as he finished with a time of 14:15.1, nearly 45 seconds behind champion Ethan Livingood of Falmouth. And with strong supporting performances from Giampietro, Gurney, Dalton and Alden Thompson Vought, the Cougars cruised to another Class A title with 40 team points, 17 more than second-place finisher Falmouth.

“He was the skimeister (at states) and I think where we lucked out was his (state championship) Alpine races were after his Nordic races,” Polfus said. “I know his back was really hurting him in his Alpine races, so we had a fresh athlete. During the season, we didn’t, because Alpine races were before ours.”

Smith pulled double-duty that weekend, also competing in the slalom competition at the Class A Alpine championships.

It’s not out of the question that Mt. Blue can once again repeat next year. Smith, Stinson, Giampietro and Gurney will all be seniors, and will have the opportunity to make a clean sweep of titles. That’s the main focus of the group, according to Smith.

“That would be a great ending to our Nordic careers,” Smith said.

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Dave_Dyer