Sixth in a series in which the Globe profiles a winter varsity high school team from Eastern Massachusetts.
It’s a common ritual for every Nordic skier — wax your skis before you race. Waxing keeps the bottom of the skis slick enough to glide through snow on race day.
The Nordic team at Wayland High has found a way to make the chore fun: The Warriors host “waxing parties” — group sessions at a team member’s house to do the deed.
“They’re just hanging out waxing skis until 9 o’clock at night,” said Chris Li, in his 16th year as head coach. “It’s nice to see that.”
The Warriors field one of the region’s top Nordic programs. Last season, the boys’ team finished third at the MIAA state meet at Notchview Reservation, while the girls placed sixth. Fueling their success is an intriguing group of skiers with a wide range of interests; a closely bonded crew that has some interesting stories to tell.
“It’s a small enough team that everyone’s close-knit, but it’s people who wouldn’t normally be friends with each other,” said senior captain McKenna Kelemanik.
The Warrior roster includes a class president (sophomore Andrew Zhao), a championship robotics conductor (junior Keenan Schilp), and national-caliber tuba player (Kelemanik). The common thread: They love to ski.
“The team is really just a mix of all different types of athletes,” said senior captain Jenna Ferrick. “It’s such a close team, and everyone has connections with each other.”
Here’s five things to know about the Warriors:
Across the country
Junior Tali Wong is a star — she was a Globe All-Scholastic after placing fifth at last year’s state meet. In addition, she is a soccer captain-elect, is the vice president of her class, and plays cello on the side.
She began skiing in third grade for the Eastern Mass. Bill Koch youth team (EMBK). Nordic skiing is a family affair for the Wongs; her older brother, Devin, a 2019 Globe All-Scholastic, is spending a gap year in Idaho at the Sun Valley Ski and Education Foundation. He will ski at Colby College next year.
Late in the college process, Devin decided skiing was his thing, and found an opportunity across the country.
From the gridiron
Junior captain Billy Caddoo first tried Nordic his freshman year, after playing on the line for the football team in junior high.
“It’s not normal for me to get football players,” Li said. “He’s been one of those success stories of someone who put the work in.”
Fast forward two years, and Caddoo is the second-ranked skier in MassBay West. Caddoo said his experience with other sports helped build his endurance, but there was still much to learn.
“The form was really hard to get down,” Caddoo said. “It’s not something that you really do in any other sport.”
Li says multi-sport athletes tend to peak later on in the season; they are not worn out from skiing year-round.
Way up north
Wong and Caddoo are both members of the Nordic team at the Cambridge Sports Union, which encourages skiers to train throughout the year.
Last March, both skiers made the trek to Fort Kent, Maine, near the Canadian border, for Eastern Regionals. Li helped coach the U-16 team.
“These championships are kind of cool because it’s all kids their age,” Li said. “Most of them realize it’s not just about skiing, it’s about hanging out with friends.”
The seven-hour bus ride to Fort Kent provides ample bonding opportunities. The regional races also enable elite skiers to match up with those of similar ability.
“It’s a really fun, different environment,” Wong said. “And still really intense.”
When the Wayland schools introduced band class in the fourth grade, Kelemanik was attracted to the euphonium, and later, the tuba.
Kelemanik rose to an all-district, all-state, and eventually national-caliber level. She will focus on music in college, and is auditioning with prestigious programs. Her dream? Play the tuba in a major orchestra like the Boston Symphony.
Funny enough, Li also grew up playing the tuba.
“The tuba is the most geeky instrument possible,” Kelemanik said. “It was fun that we had a connection.”
But “McKTuba,” as Li calls his captain, isn’t the only musical Warrior. Senior Cecilia Murphy is a violinist, sophomore Lilli Tobe is a percussionist, Wong plays cello, and Schilp has a passion for rock music.
“We’ve never talked about making a band,” Kelemanik said. “Maybe I should bring that up.”
Passing it on
Talk to any one about the Wayland Nordic team, and buzzwords such as “tight-knit,” “close,” and “bonding” pop up consistently.
Li has tried to build a culture of closeness in a sport that’s often on the fringes of most schools’ radars. There’s “waxing parties,” and chanting sessions before dryland workouts outside the Wayland football field.
A number of former Warrior skiers go off to ski at club programs in college, and then return home to ski with Li when they get the chance.
Li’s own sons Nathaneal, 11, and Ian, 8, are already racing with EMBK. The coach already is seeing the start of some potentially lifelong friendships with the boys’ club teammates, who live all over the state.
“Sometimes I’ll be driving 45 minutes for a playdate for my kids,” Li said with a laugh.
And just like with the Warriors, Li continues to pass down his passion for Nordic skiing.
“It’s interesting to see a sport that I like picked up by my kids,” Li said
Matt MacCormack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.