Maranacook boys Nordic coach Steve DeAngelis knew before the season his team was going to be tough to beat. But even he’s been surprised by what he’s seen out of the Black Bears this winter.

What he’s seen has been a boys team that never knows who its top skier is going to be on a race-by-race basis. Sometimes Luke Bartol is Maranacook’s top gun. Sometimes it’s Carter McPhedran. And sometimes Gabe Fein is the one with a race that bests both of them.

DeAngelis isn’t about to complain. A trio of No. 1s is better than one.

“It’s kind of a nice problem to have,” he said. “In all honesty, I think the biggest surprise is how even we’ve been with those top guys.”

Every race, it seems to change. Fein won a classical race at Sugarloaf Jan. 10, with Bartol coming in second and McPhedran taking third. Then, on Jan. 12, it was Bartol’s turn to win at the Hornet Classic, with Fein taking third and McPhedran fourth. The team skied at Mt. Blue at the Cougar Soft 7 four days later and the hierarchy shifted again, as McPhedran won, Bartol finished second and Fein placed third.

So, who is Maranacook’s best skier? It depends on the day.

“Right now, they are almost completely interchangeable,” said DeAngelis, whose team has also received consistent top-10s from Tate Mendall and Bryce Trefethen. “In a number of races they’ve been 1-2-3, but all in different orders. … They’ve all won races, they’ve all been second. They’ve been back-and-forth all over the place.”

And they’ve done it, DeAngelis said, without letting the competition between them go too far. The three motivate each other, he said, but they’re driven more by the idea of the team performing well as a whole.

“You don’t ski that fast consistently unless you’re competitive,” DeAngelis said. “But that kind of (feeling) does not creep into it ever, where they say ‘Ah, you got me this race. I’m going to get you next race.’ What I think they all are very clear about is that they make each other better, because they get to ski with each other in practice every day.”

• • •

The Maranacook girls Nordic team hasn’t been the force the boys have been this season, but DeAngelis likes what he’s seen from the group.

“They’re skiing incredibly well also,” he said. “They’ll still be in the top three, probably, at the state meet.”

DeAngelis said Maura Taylor has been one of the biggest surprises on the girls team. She had the Black Bears’ best finish at both the Maranacook Waves Race Jan. 19 and the Sassi Memorial classical race Jan. 26.

“(She) is just skiing great,” he said. “She had a really great freshman year and was a little bit off last year, and I thought a lot of it was just her mental set about racing. She’s much snappier and more excited about it this year.”

• • •

Few skiers in the state enjoyed a better January than Mt. Blue’s Ellie Pelletier.

On Jan. 4, the senior was 72nd at a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference slalom race after falling at Black Mountain. Since then, Pelletier hasn’t lost, taking first in all four meets in which she’s competed.

“I’m not totally surprised,” coach Mark Cyr said. “She ended the year last year doing really well. … I figured she would just roll into this year. She was a little slow in getting started this year, she had a couple of tough runs, she had a fall in a couple of races, but once she got her rhythm in, she’s dialed it right in. She’s on fire.”

Pelletier has thrived at Titcomb Mountain, winning KVAC slaloms there on Jan. 11, Jan. 16 and then last Friday. She also won the Pakulski Slalom at Kents Hill on Jan. 19.

Cyr said Pelletier hasn’t changed much, but did tweak her form in a way that has set up her success.

“Her technique has changed a little bit,” he said. “She had a problem in years past where her knees were too close together. Now she’s got a much more athletic, a much more stable stance on her skis. She’s able to do more things as far as getting the skis up on edge and working the skis the way they’re designed to do.”

• • •

It’s a small Alpine team at Mt. Abram, but coach Larry Dunphy has seen some quality despite the lack of quantity.

The Roadrunners have only four skiers, all girls, but Dunphy has been impressed by the ones who came out for the team. Alice MacKay, a sophomore who had top-10 finishes at slalom races at Titcomb on Jan. 25, Jan. 16 and Jan. 11, leads the way.

“She has that passion that every coach wants their kids to have,” Dunphy said. “She’s a very talented young lady on skis, very, very talented, and very competitive. And it looks like (she has) a lot of family support.”

The Roadrunners’ team also consists of Yvonne Provencher, Lydia Decentes and Celeste Reid. Dunphy said Reid, a junior, has made strides in her first season of ski racing.

“She’s a good skier. She lacks a lot of experience,” he said. “But she also has a lot of fun skiing. To me, that’s what high school racing is all about. It’s got to be fun.”

Dunphy holds out hope numbers could tick up for Mt. Abram soon.

“Maybe next year,” Dunphy said. “I’m getting to know some of the junior high kids, because they travel for training at Titcomb on the same bus that we travel on. Hopefully in one or two years, as they move through, they’ll get to know the coach, they’ll get to know some of the high school kids, and hopefully they’ll step up.”

• • •

Wednesday’s KVAC and Mountain Valley Conference slalom races at Titcomb was postponed to Monday after host Mt. Blue canceled school following a snowstorm Tuesday night. Cyr, whose team also had meets at Sunday River and Mt. Abram called off due to weather, said the field Monday will be smaller as some schools dropped out with the KVAC and MVC championships looming Wednesday.

“It’ll be a much smaller field,” he said. “Wednesday was supposed to be about 180, 190 kids. I’d be surprised if there were 75.”

The KVAC and MVC championships will be split into a giant slalom Wednesday at Black Mountain and a slalom Saturday at Titcomb.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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