When it comes to Nordic skiing, Concord-Carlisle High has dominated the Mass Bay West League this winter.
Winning all six regular-season races, the team has been propelled to the top by performances from three key athletes who have finished in the top ten every time.
But there are a handful of skiers from other schools who have managed to hang with the Concord-Carlisle leaders for most of a race, then surpass them on the home stretch.
Sean Doherty, a senior from Westford Academy, is one of them.
Doherty, 18, is no stranger to the powerhouse program that is Concord-Carlisle. He has been trying, and often succeeding, to race past them for four years.
“I know they’re strong, just training together every weekend and staying together,” he said. “So I just hope to hang on to the pack and eventually try to break off from the top guys, and it helps to have more endurance.”
Where his rivals can rotate the leading position and draft off each other — that is, switch off on taking the full brunt of the wind — Doherty has no help. He must navigate the course and face the wind resistance all by himself.
“I don’t have a problem with it, just because I can still push myself alone,’’ he said. “Racing just me is okay. I know where I am compared to them.”
Twice this season, the Concord-Carlisle trio — Alex Burt, Henry Johnstone, and Ayden Nichol — has taken the top three spots, leaving Doherty in either fourth or fifth place. But on three other occasions, he has been able to break into the juggernaut, finishing second twice and third once.
The six races in the course of the season got progressively longer, starting at 3.4 kilometers and eventually reaching 7. After the final race, Doherty found himself in third place in the overall league standings, a spot he said he was gunning for.
“I knew there was a lot of talent coming back,” he said. “Not a lot of kids graduated, so it was my goal to hang on to that third place and just to keep racing with them, and I was happy that I was pretty consistent.”
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association championship race is set for Tuesday, Feb. 27. Featuring over 100 high schoolers from across the state, competitors are split into several heats, with only one skier per school allocated to each.
With the Concord-Carlisle skiers unable to race together, Doherty is hoping his true individual capability can rise to the surface.
“Everyone is just one person from their team,” he said, “so it’s endurance in the end.”
Adam Burns and Ethan Kendall share that sentiment.
The seniors from Winchester have also been battling the Concord-Carlisle crew in Mass Bay West, earning top-ten spots along with Doherty. Kendall placed 6th overall and Burns 8th.
While they have enjoyed some success working as a duo, they, too, hope to benefit individually by the breaking up of teams at the state race.
“It’s going to show more individual pushing than pushing as a team,” said Burns, 18. “You’re not really with your team anymore. You’re with a bunch of people you don’t know.”
Kendall said facing off with Concord-Carlisle has actually made him and Burns better cross-country skiers. Their strategy of staying on the heels of the Concord-Carlisle group for most of the race, before trying to burst ahead, has led to quicker times. Kendall has crossed the finish line before all three of the Concord-Carlisle skiers have in three races this winter. One such finish was a third-place performance behind Burt and Doherty.
“I think it has a huge contribution to the league that there are those three C-C guys because they push everybody else,” Kendall, 18, said. “Winning every race, it’s really helpful that they’re there because otherwise no one would be skiing as fast as they are.”
On the other hand, the location of the state race could prove a hindrance for both Burns and Kendall.
Notchview Reservation in Windsor is the primary course, with Prospect Mountain Ski Area in Woodford, Vt. the backup if there’s not enough snow in Windsor. Kendall prefers the flatness of the former while Burns benefits more from the hills of Prospect Mountain. Both, though, are used to doing laps at Weston Ski Track. It will prove more difficult to face the single loop of both potential venues.
“It’s good to know, when you’re getting to a certain hill, like ‘Oh, I only have this much left, I’m going to push myself that much harder,’ ” Kendall said of Weston Ski Track. “At Mount Prospect and Notchview, you just suddenly come out the woods and you’re at the finish line.”
For Doherty, it doesn’t matter. He is planning to match his sixth-place performance from last year on either course.
“Personally, I don’t care, because everyone has the same conditions,’’ he said. “It’s a long race so it’s not like every second counts. So it’s just conditioning at this point, and I’m feeling pretty confident.”Matt Case can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.