Poles and skis churned up snow in their wake as Champlain Valley’s Thomas Clayton and Mount Anthony’s Luke Keenan banked to the right in their frantic dash to the finish line. Clayton, entering the turn first, had the edge. Keenan, hot on his heels, was gaining steam again. ¶ Two days of Nordic skiing, four races total, boiled down to the blink of an eye. ¶ And a Redhawk repeat. ¶ Keenan’s valiant attempt to dethrone the Champlain Valley boys, erasing seven seconds off the lead Clayton owned at the start of the anchor leg, came up an agonizing .6 seconds shy of a title on Tuesday afternoon at Mountain Top.
“Oh my goodness. I’ve been coaching 18 years and I’ve never seen a finish like that. That was amazing,” CVU coach Sarah Strack said. “Wow. Yeah.”
Paired with the rest of the results of the classical races on the final day of the Vermont high school Nordic ski championships, the dramatic conclusion meant the Redhawks swept the Division I boys and girls crowns for the second year in a row — a feat matched by Woodstock in Division II.
The Champlain Valley girls’ bid for a third consecutive title was by no means sealed after the morning’s 5-kilometer individual race, but their double-digit lead on Mount Mansfield provided a more-than-workable margin.
A commanding victory in the relay — CVU finished more than a minute ahead of the Cougars — did the rest as the Redhawks wrapped up the competition with a 23-point cushion on runner-up MMU (97 points). Mount Anthony was third with 185 points.
“It feels great. We’ve put in a lot of work in training over the whole season and it’s really rewarding to have it come together as a team, do the best we can and finish strong,” said senior Autumn Eastman, who followed her overall victory in the freestyle race Thursday with a second-place showing Tuesday morning, one spot behind winner Chloe Levins of Rutland.
Eastman also cleaned up the final leg of CVU’s relay team, which caught a huge boost from Cally Braun in the opening leg and powered away from the field with Tatum Braun and Rachel Slimovitch.
“Cally had an amazing first leg. She had a great first leg and Tatum just built up the lead from there,” Strack said. “Part of it, too, is who you’re skiing against, in what leg. Starting on that first leg is always tough.”
Clayton and the CVU boys eked out a 96-111 victory over MAU, which finished runner-up for the fourth year in a row
Keenan took second in the D-I boys race earlier in the day — Rutland’s Isaac Wright grabbed the top spot — to set the stage for the Patriots, who whittled a 12-point deficit to single digits heading into the relay.
Will Buckley and Nick Altland maintained a lead across the first two legs for Mount Anthony. But Charlie Maitland, racing third for the Redhawks, reeled in the Patriots before handing over a lead to Clayton, who added the finishing kick.
“The guy from Mount Anthony, Luke, was coming really strong on me and I knew I had to hold it out,” Clayton said. “Once I got to the top of the hill I knew I had it but it was a lot of work. It was a really tight race.”
Mount Mansfield (184) took third in the division, followed by Essex (213).
But both were jostling for position after the two finalists.
“It’s just a second. That’s kind of been the story with these two teams,” MAU coach Bruce Smith said of the title race. “It’s that close.
“A little longer course, who knows? But it wasn’t,” he said. “I think either team deserves to stand on that top spot today. Obviously I’d like to have it be my boys and I’m sure they would too, but I don’t begrudge a thing to CVU. Their boys put it all on the line as well.”
Behind junior Zane Fields, who matched his overall victory in the freestyle on in the classic as well, 13 seconds ahead of Wright, the Woodstock boys captured their fifth consecutive D-II championship.
“On paper this is what you want to have happen, but it’s pretty awesome when you see it materialize and they’re skiing at their best when you want them to be. He’s on fire right now,” Wasps coach Nick Mahood said. “It’s great heading into junior nationals next week.”
Graham Melville (sixth) and Campbell Boswell (10th) also had top-10 finishes for the Wasps (85), which padded its lead over runner-up U-32 (127). Harwood (211), Stowe and Burr and Burton rounded out the top five.
Carmen Bango spearheaded the Woodstock girls’ repeat efforts, taking first in the D-II field by more than a minute in the individual race.
Anna Ramsey (fifth), Finn McFarland (ninth) and Kristin Ramsey (10th) helped build a commanding lead entering the afternoon. Another dominant Wasps performance — they outpaced the D-I teams in each of the freestyle events last week — in the relay capped a 40-point championship margin over U-32 (105).
“Last week was definitely some incredibly inspirational skiing by all the kids,” said Mahood, in his sixth season leading the Wasps. “The girls, to do that, was pretty awesome. I’ve gone from having one girl on the team when I started coaching to having 22 girls on this team.”