RIPTON — U-32 senior Jesse Colnes basked in the glory of a full-circle state championship moment Monday.
Colnes helped the Raiders close out an 86-point victory over two-time defending champion Middlebury, sparking the first boys-girls sweep for U-32 at Nordic skiing state championships. The U-32 girls followed up a title from 2016, when Colnes was a freshman. And with every other skier set to return for next year‘s title defense, this could be just the start of the Raiders’ reign.
“Most of our skiers were good at (cross-country) running and we were second in the states, but Harwood beat us by quite a bit,” U-32 coach Mark Chaplin said. “But almost all our girls stay together from running to skiing. And as a ski group they’re stronger. In the spring they break up a little bit, and some of them play lacrosse and tennis and whatever else. But they train together in the summer and fall and they’re a really close-knit group.”
May Lamb (second, 18 minutes, 19.8 seconds), Jesse Colnes (fifth, 19:09.3) and Ginger Knight (11th, 20:42.3) paced U-32 during Monday’s classical 5-kilometer individual race. The top four skiers for each team score points, so it was fitting that Shams Ferver (12th, 20:53.7) and Ayla Bodach-Turner (12th, 20:53.7) finished with identical times for U-32. Not far behind were Anna Knauss (14th, 21:05.8), Mia Smith (18th, 21:30.5) and Lucy Krokenberger (19th, 21:51).
“Our girls were all just so close to each other. Middlebury and Harwood and Burr and Burton all had strong individuals. But they didn’t have a group of four or five that could compete with us,” Chaplin said.
U-32 headed into the final day with a 41-point lead over Harwood and a 51-point advantage against Middlebury. During the 5k individual classic races, U-32 defeated the Tigers by 55 points while beating the Highlanders by 45 points. The Raiders won the relay by over two minutes, led by Lamb, Knight, Ferver and Colnes.
“We’re pretty strong and we have a lot of depth,” Lamb said. “We always train together and we’re always skiing together.”
Lamb joined the team in early January after training in Wyoming at the start of the winter. The Raiders were already a powerhouse and quickly grew even stronger, taking down many Division I opponents.
“Having May come back, it really added to our team,” Knight said. “It was great. We were already doing well and then we were like, ‘Wow, another person.’”
The pack mentality has been U-32’s bread and butter in Nordic and cross-country running — two sports where each team’s No. 4 finisher counts for as many points as the No. 1 athlete.
“We’re a very committed team,” Knight said. “We all bond together, so we all know each other. It’s great seeing someone ahead of you and catching up to them and working together as a team.”
A year ago, the Raiders entered the final day of state championships at the same venue and squandered a 21-point lead against Middlebury. The chance of a repeat scenario was not in the cards, and by the time the relay rolled around nothing could stop U-32.
“We knew we had a lot of good people from last year,” Colnes said. “And a lot of our top skiers this year were freshmen last year, and they’ve improved so much. And you really improve in time in skiing because you learn the technique so much better.”
For all of U-32’s success, Harwood freshman Ava Thurston stole the show individually. She crossed the line in 16:30.3, beating D-I champ Quincy Massey-Bierman by 31 seconds. Thurston was not able to hear splits from other races because she took off second out of 129 skiers during the interval-start format.
In the end, it didn’t matter.
“I was mad that I had to go second because usually I like getting splits,” Thurston said. “And it helps me just seeing people and being able to catch them. But I think it was really lucky today (because) the snow changed part-way. I was close to finishing, and the sun came out and all of sudden the snow changed and people’s waxes weren’t working. And mine worked throughout.”
Thurston thrives on downhills and finished 15 seconds behind Olympian Hanna Dreissigacker at this year’s Stowe Derby, which starts atop the Alpine trails at Stowe Mountain Resort. Her comfort level traveling in excess of 30 mph was a big asset during both Nordic state championships.
“I was a little nervous on one of the turns that I had fallen on here in a race in the past,” Thurston said. “But it wasn’t too bad when I went. There was a little bit of scraped-off (snow), but you can definitely make up a lot of time on the downhills here.”
Mackenzie Greenberg (25th, 22:34.2), Sydney Kulis (26th, 22:58.5) and Caelyn McDonough (27th, 23:22.5) also scored points for the Highlanders. Peoples Academy was led by Sofie Carlson (ninth, 20:36.1), Weslie Carlson (23rd, 22:17.2), Lexy Dambach (42nd, 24:58.4) and Brianna Reeve (46th, 25:36). Stowe’s top skier was Andrea Jackman (32nd, 23:46.5).
DIVISION I GIRLS
1. Mt. Mansfield 94 2. CVU 108 3. Mt. Anthony 163 4. Burlington 232 5. Brattleboro 252 6. Colchester 318 7. BFA-St. Albans 392 8. St. Johnsbury 596
DIVISION II GIRLS