U-32 Nordic has gained a reputation for two things: skiing fast all winter and finishing runner-up at state championships.
For the past 16 years, the U-32 boys have settled for a second-place banner almost out of routine. It reflects the vitality of the program — now a small army — but it’s left the Raiders wanting more. They can certainly relate to teams like the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls, and golfer Phil Mickelson, who placed second at the U.S. Open six times.
This year, U-32 coach Mark Chaplin is confident the title drought will end. According to him, the Raiders are simply too powerful for anyone to pose a serious challenge. Even if his athletes have slow skis, the team’s depth can offset any waxing issues. If another team make a surprise move in the relay, Chaplin’s top guns can cover it.
The U-32 boys will begin their bid for the program’s first title since 2002 when state championships kick off at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. The individual-start skating event features a 5-kilometer course, with a new racer heading out every 15 seconds. Eight skiers can compete for each school and the top four score points. At 2 p.m. the boys will compete in a 4x2.5k freestyle relay, with big points up for grabs.
“We’ve finished second so many times that we joke, ‘We’re No. 2 — everybody try harder,’” Chaplin said. “It’s funny. We go through these cycles where Woodstock is overwhelming and we manage to get a close second. And then just when we start to think it’s our year, Middlebury is overwhelming. And the top skiers from the other schools are not ones we see coming. We don’t see them in middle school because they’re usually racing for their club. We always seem to get blind-sided. But I think the string has run out. I think our boys are too strong for anybody at this point. I don’t want to jinx them, but they haven’t really lost to anybody all year. The only meet we lost was when six of our skiers were at Eastern Cup and one more was sick. It was a narrow loss to Colchester, but it was meaningless.”
Greyson Davis, Trevor Patterson, Jed Kurts, Waylon Kurts and Hans Krokenberger are U-32’s most proven finishers. Teammates Tzevi Schwartz, Sam Clark and Cameron Thompson are not far behind, rounding out a virtual All-Star roster.
“This is easily the strongest boys team we’ve ever had,” Chaplin said. “In the past we’ve had teams with really good athletes, and we’ve had teams with really good runners who can run well on skis. Now, they know how to ski and they’re great athletes.”
Middlebury is the three-time defending Division II champ, while Woodstock won six straight titles from 2010-2015. Peoples captured three straight from 2007-2009, denying several talented U-32 squads. Before that, Lamoille and Harwood swapped titles to thwart the Raiders.
This year, Middlebury will attempt to pull off a four-peat behind a young crew, led by Elvis McIntosh and Jack Christner. Rounding out the Tigers’ lineup are Owen Palcsik, Bill Carpenter, Lucas Palcsik, Gabe Cason, Alex Belich and Fraser Milligan.
“Last year, Middlebury was stronger than any team in either Division I or D-II,” Chaplin said. “They had two phenomenal skiers that could kill you in the relay — Jack Hussey and Sam Hodges — so they were tough. Even if we had more depth, they could close on anybody. But with those two gone, they’ve had to start over. They have two younger skiers that are quite good: Elvis McIntosh and Jack Christner. But they’re not quite yet at the level of Hussey and Hodges. And I don’t think that they have anybody else who can compete with us. I think our top two are as fast as their top two. And beside that, we have a strong third and fourth and fifth and sixth. And they drop off after their top two.”
Davis is U-32’s fastest skier, while Patterson, Krokenberger and the Kurts brothers have all placed second on the team at least once.
“Greyson is built like a linebacker,” Chaplin said. “He’s technically very good and he’s so powerful. In classic he can double-pole the whole course. And in skating he can V2 up most hills.”
The bulk of U-32’s elite skiers are also standouts for a cross-country running team that owns three straight championships. And those same three-sport standouts — the Kurts brothers and Patterson — will seek a seventh straight track and field title this spring.
“Waylon is great at skiing, but his true love is running,” Chaplin said. “Jed many be a little stronger overall as a skier, but every now and then Waylon beats him.”
Patterson is a distance specialist who’s not afraid to make fearless moves on descents.
“Trevor has really good balance and technique — he’s very agile and smooth,” Chaplin said. “He does backcountry skiing and scary alpine skiing. He’s fairly aggressive going down hills and just attacks them. He can dance through a crowd.”
Krokenberger is one of U-32’s most improved athletes, surprising many skiers from other schools. He’s steadily moved up the Raiders’ pecking order along with Schwartz and Clark, so all three are now contenders to make the relay team.
“Hans is another one of the guys who is building jumps and doing 360s,” Chaplin said. “When we pick the relay team, we put a lot of stock in who our top four are that morning. But he’s right on the edge. Sam and Tzevi would have to be convincing, but they’re not out of the relay conversation either. They’re solid skiers. But I’m not going to take someone who’s been second or third on the team all year and bump them off because they’re a few seconds back.”
Chaplin started coaching Nordic in 1995 and helped the U-32 boys claim titles in 1998, 1999 and 2002. Following Thursday’s opening races, this year’s state championships will wrap up Monday with classic action at Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. The Raiders have traditionally struggled during classic races at Rikert, which is where Middlebury trains.
“We’ve seen Middlebury several times this year, and the only time they were right with us was when we didn’t have our top six skiers,” Chaplin said. “At Rikert, our hope is to just hit the wax slightly right and then overwhelm them with strength. We’ll see if we can gain a big lead in the morning. I really think we can hold our own in classic — we have all year.”