MANCHESTER - When the Burr and Burton Academy Coed Nordic Ski Team begins its season next Wednesday there will be more skiers vying for the podium.

The size of the program has nearly doubled this year. After graduating just two skiers last year - one male and one female - there are 10 members of last year's team who are returning this season. What's more, there are also 13 new members who have joined the team this season.

"The kids have done almost all of the recruiting. The assistant coach, John Bigelow, has also been a big help," said coach Ian Black. "He teaches social studies down there. So, it's nice to have a coach on campus all the time because I'm not on campus except when I'm coaching. So, it's just basically starting at the bottom and the kids are excited about it and they're getting their friends to join in."

There are seven boys returning to the team this year. Seniors Thomas Kittross, Kevin Pollio and Simon Aborn have all returned for their final season along with junior Noah Wetherald and sophomores Paton Marion, Anders Proft and Max Mackson.

New to the boys team this year are juniors Samuel Chen, German Anton, sophomores Scott Mooney and Sam Silsby and freshman Owen Pollio.

Sophomores Helena Bigelow, Raili Utiger and Ali Leiter are the three returning members on the girls team, which has seen significant growth this season. New to this year's team are Isabel Abs, Grace Provost, Amanda Mulroy, Abbey Stalcup, Clara Thorn, Olivia Bellingham, Irene Matas and Silvia Velasco.

In an interview on Monday, Black said that there are a few members of this year's team whom he expects to perform well consistently.

"We've got Thomas Kittross coming back for his senior year and he had a really strong season on the cross country running team. So, he'll be one of our top guys and we've also got Scott Mooney. He's one of our new skiers and he's a sophomore. He transferred from Stratton Mountain School. He lives up in Peru and he comes from a family of really strong Nordic skiers. So, I'm expecting him to be a really strong part of the team as well."

In addition, Black said he is interested to see how Proft - who was new to the sport last season - will perform.

"He's just a really good athlete and seems really excited about it. So, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do this year," said Black.

On the girls side Black said that he expects Bigelow and Utiger to be the top skiers on the team.

"They're both sophomores this year and they've got a good number of years of experience between them," said Black. "Helena and Raili they have basically grown up Nordic skiing and we'll be looking to them to help lead the girls and also help some of the [younger] boys as well."

The team began practicing on Dec. 2, but the lack of snow has limited them to mainly dry land training. Workouts so far have typically consisted of running, hiking, core strength activities - such as situps, pushups, planks, etc. - as well as some other exercises.

"We do a lot of balance drills because balance is really important for Nordic skiing," said Black. "Starting this week we're going to get up to Bromley Mountain and they've let us ski around their Learning Center. [They're ] a little bit more mellow slopes up there and [we'll] basically ski around in a small circle, but it beats no skiing at all."

When the team competes in their first meet on Wednesday at Mt. Top - a meet hosted by Rutland and that will include the Marble Valley League teams of Rutland, Brattleboro, Mount Anthony, Woodstock, and Otter Valley - Black said he will be looking to get the kids "pumped up" as they will be competing in a freestyle sprint format, which will be 2 kilometers long. Black said that the distance is shorter than the standard high school race distance of 5 kilometers - or 3.1 miles.

While Black said he has not set any specific goals for the team this season, he wants to make sure that the skiers continue to not only have fun, but improve as well. That said, Black indicated he would like to see members of the team performing well, especially toward the end of the season.

"From a more objective goal I think it would be nice to put a few skiers in there in the top 10 at the state meets, but it's ultimately just to get the kids excited, keep them having fun and try to grow the program again for next year," he said.

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