By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Westborough – It’s typical for a high school race team to have several skiers qualify for the state competition every year. This year, however, Westborough High School sent 11 racers – five boys and six girls – out of the total 36 racers for the entire Central Mass. High School Ski League.
“That’s pretty remarkable,” explained Geoffrey Spofford, in his second year as commissioner of the league.
The league is made up of 18 teams, 9 boys’ and 9 girls’, of 166 racers from high schools around the region. All teams race Thursdays at Ski Ward in Shrewsbury for five weeks on slalom and giant slalom courses. To qualify for states, a skier must earn a certain number of points averaged from their best seven race times.
The state competition, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) High School Alpine State Championship, was held Feb. 14 at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. While no Westborough skier won the league, the sheer number of top-level skiers to compete is an achievement in itself.
“The season was fantastic,” said Coach Greg Rota. “The team skied very well all year long; every kid had highlights.”
He attributes the success to the skiers’ backgrounds.
“They come with technical experience,” he said. “They are pretty refined and raring to go. All I do is help them make a few adjustments and correct a few things here and there.”
According to Spofford, “many of them got their start at Ski Ward; it’s a great feeder program for Central Mass.”
Rota said his most important job is mentally preparing kids for races and motivating them for competition.
The team is led by co-captains Robert Stout and Hanna Spofford, Geoffrey Spofford’s daughter. Like many of her teammates, Hanna had been racing for many years.
“It really says a lot that out of the top 18 girls in our league that qualified for the state championship race, six of those places went to our girls’ team,” she said. “Next year we will be all be back at it and hoping for a league champion title, as we are graduating no racers from our already skilled team.”
Hanna finished in fourth overall in the league.
“Ski racing is definitely not the most popular sport by any means, but seeing all those other kids that have worked equally as hard and understand how painful it is to wake up at 5 a.m. is really cool for me,” she said. “I’m excited to see what we can pull off next year and I’m very pleased with how this season has ended.
Both Spofford and Rota mentioned another racer who stood out this year: senior Ryley Palladino. Unlike the rest of his competitors, he never had formal training.
“Before the season began I had a goal of making states no matter what it took,” Palladino said. “For not having any formal ski training or have raced for another team, I knew this would be a difficult task. Each practice I would push myself harder and harder running the course over and over again. Leading up until the last race I had to pull off two top 10 runs. Right before my run Coach Rota said ‘just leave it all out there, you have nothing to lose.’”
He ended up finishing 16th in the league and achieved his goal.
“He came up on his own as a freshman,” Rota said. “His goal this year was to make states; he had the races of his life this year.”
At states, he finished both runs and “placed better than I thought I would,” he said, ranking 130th out of 148 state qualifiers.
“It was an honor to put on that Westborough bib every Thursday and represent the town that I ski for,” he noted. “We have so much talent on our team it amazes me.”