By Tris Wykes
PLAINFIELD – Wednesday’s freestyle cross-country ski race between host Lebanon High and Bedford, Fall Mountain and Plymouth was, because of Covid-19 precautions, the first time the host Raiders were allowed to compete with spectators this season.
The majority of those in attendance at the Plainfield School enjoyed what they saw as Lebanon won both the girls and boys races. Raiders senior Ayla Weale dominated the girls event and junior Daniel Mladek finished second in the boys contest.
The Lebanon girls wound up with 13 points, ahead of Plymouth (41) and Bedford (59). Lebanon’s boys had 17 points with Fall Mountain (24), Plymouth (80) and Bedford (88) following.
Weale crossed the line in 15 minutes, 25 seconds, almost a minute ahead of Plymouth’s second-place Addie England (16:19), and did so without seeming much out of breath. The performance continues a standout season for Weale, whose dedication to strength and conditioning shows in her power and results.
“Ayla’s really blossomed this year,” said veteran Lebanon coach Les Lawrence. “In the past, she was a solid skier for us, but this year has seen her make the jump to being elite. Hard work in the offseason provided the base and her dedication to working on the little things has pushed her into that category.”
Weale’s times this season, even allowing for conditions and varying competition, strongly suggest she could compete for some of the top colleges in the country. It might have to be in a walk-on role, however, because she’s improved so rapidly late in the recruiting process.
Where might Weale be headed? She’s loathe to fully disclose those hopes for fear of jinxing her admissions chances, but she allowed that she’s applied to half a dozen schools. Those include Vermont, New Hampshire, American University in Washington, D.C., and McDaniel College, in Westminster, Md.
Weale’s also a strong rower and said she might like to compete in both sports in college, perhaps choosing a club team for one and a varsity squad for the other.
Nordic skiing and rowing “are very similar in that you have to be mentally and physically strong and I thrive in that environment,” said Weale, adding that she hadn’t considered competing at the next level until quarantine conditions led her to focus on health and exercise. “I’ve emailed some coaches, but I don’t know if being at a school where sports is a priority is what I want.”
Finishing first and alone is all Weale has known this season.
“Having people around me is good because it pushes me, but I also like being alone so I can figure how hard I can push myself,” Weale said. “I like to cross the line feeling like I don’t have any more to give. But if there’s someone right on my tail, it would probably make me go that much faster.”
Weale described Wednesday’s granulated footing as “like sugar; you put your foot down on it and it all moves”, but noted adaption is crucial. “Tempo and balance are really important, too,” she said. “You have to move a lot faster so you’re getting out and not just sticking in it.”
Lebanon’s Maya Barnett finished third (17:02) and teammates Sophie Longacre (17:28) and Zoe Chinn (17:32) were fourth and fifth. Raiders Ana Goodwin (17:43), Anna Illsley (17:49) and Kayla Taber (18:31) were next to cross the line.
The boys race was won by Fall Mountain’s Gabe Lloyd (13:56), followed by Mladek (14:15). The Raiders’ Seth Carl (14:36) was fourth and Sam Shipman (14:40) and John Bieszczad (14:43) were fifth and sixth. Lebanon’s James Barnett (16:26) was 10th.
Notes: Fall Mountain didn’t score as a girls team but its boys squad was highly visible. The Wildcats competed in cow-patterned suits… Barnett also skates for Lebanon’s ice hockey team… Weale’s brother, Lebanon sophomore Sawyer Weale, doesn’t compete for the high school, instead racing for the Ford Sayre program’s junior national team… Lawrence spent the time between races riding a machine that resembles a giant snowmobile and using it to groom the race course.
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