GRANTHAM — Noah and Simon Phipps have a positive outlook on the NHIAA’s realignment of Nordic skiing.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Noah Phipps said. “It’ll be fun to race some new teams, especially with more teams in our division. The more skiers, the merrier.”
The two contributed to Hanover High’s Division II state championship last winter when the Marauders edged out Lebanon, 776-729. The Marauders’ path to a second consecutive title will be a little more crowded this year, however, with a move to the D-I ranks as the state has realigned from four divisions to two 15-school associations.
They’ll have to edge out Concord, too, which has won 12 straight D-I championships on both the boys and girls side. The Hanover boys and girls teams have combined for 11 titles since 2008.
In frigid conditions at the Eastman Golf Links trails on Saturday morning, Hanover got its first preview of what the D-I state title race might look like. Noah (14:18.2) and Simon (14:19.1) finished first and second, respectively, guiding the Marauders to a 391-381 victory over Concord in a skate-style race.
Kaitlyn Watt paced the Crimson Tide with her first-place finish in 16:57.2, which put her nearly a minute ahead of Hanover’s Sage Gilbert-Diamond (17:46.0). Hanover edged out the visitors for the girls team win, 389-383.
“He’s always out in front of me, and all I’m thinking about is getting out on his tail,” said Simon Phipps, who usually competes for the top spot with his brother.
Caleb Zuckerman (15:15.3) squeezed into the top five at fourth place, helping out Hanover’s scoring. The Marauders showed their depth by placing Adam Gilbert-Diamond (15:56.7), Taj Bagnato (16:15.4), Luke Holmes (16:47.8), Noah Branchflower (17:34.5) and Erik Blix (18:12.8) sixth through 10th.
“This year has been different,” Hanover coach Tom Masterson said. “Everything’s been different, so touch and go. It’s great because the skiers seem really excited to be racing. The kids have been great with the COVID protocol.
“I think considering everything with COVID-19, it makes sense to simplify things and create two divisions.”
Other scorers for Concord were freshman Tyler Watt (15:07.9), who placed third, and Eben Bragg (15:16.9) in fifth. Liam Gleason finished in 19:18.3 for 11th place.
“I’m in favor of the move to two divisions,” said Concord coach Sam Evans-Brown, who is also the host of NHPR’s podcast Outside/In. “Previously we had four divisions, but only one of them was competitive. There was a dynasty in every division; we had run 12 years in a row. And that’s stupid.
“Perhaps it would’ve been nice if it hadn’t coincided with the pandemic, so we would’ve had the chance to settle in a little more. It is what it is.”
Behind Sage Gilbert-Diamond’s second-place performance, the Hanover girls helped out by Britta Arvold, who clocked in a time of 18:02.2 for third place. Elsa May (18:03.4) and June Clark (20:11.0) finished fourth and sixth, respectively.
Concord closed out its scoring with Mathea Graham (fifth, 19:10.8), Alexis Christie (eighth, 20:39.5) and Katherine Martel (11th, 20:57.1).
Sage Gilbert-Diamond was fourth in both freestyle and classic at last year’s D-II state championship, but the Marauders placed third, trailing behind Kennett and Lebanon.
“It’s nice to kind of take a break from everything and get outside,” Gilbert-Diamond said. “This is my happy place. I think it’s great to be out with the team
Saturday’s race didn’t come without its fair share of COVID-19 protocols.
Hanover and Concord started in separate waves, similar to the way the state cross country running meet was held. The only difference was the entire Crimson Tide team completed the course as one to limit the possible spread of the virus.
The change meant that neither team truly raced against the other; instead, times were compared on the same course to create a leaderboard. That’s become the norm this winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic as teams start in separate waves. Before one team starts, the last must finish the race and pack on the bus to head home.
“You have some competition with racing against people on the same team, but a lot of the race you are looking out in front of you and imagining there is an imaginary Concord skier right in front of you that you need to catch,” Simon Phipps said.
Notes: Lebanon was supposed to participate in the race but due the frigid conditions, coach Les Lawrence chose to opt out of the event. … Masterson was using an app on his phone to time the meet, his first time doing so. … Hanover is scheduled to race again on Wednesday against Lebanon. … The D-I state meet will be either held on March 2 or 3, depending on weather, at Great Glen Trails in Gorham. Evans-Brown said his team has been traveling to Proctor Academy to practice due to the lack of snow in Concord.