By Mike Zummo
The season got off to a late start and then they had to battle with the protocols set forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the season was, in the end, successful, as the Wallkill boys’ Nordic ski team won the Section 9 championship on Feb. 23 at Minnewaska State Park.
“It’s been good,” Wallkill coach Nick Mancuso said. “It’s been definitely a challenge in the beginning with the COVID protocols in place. Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated and gave us plenty of snow around here to ski on.”
The section is down to three Nordic ski teams on the boys’ side – Wallkill, New Paltz and Monticello and two on the girls’ side – New Paltz and Wallkill. Kingston and Rondout Valley used to have programs but have dropped them in recent years.
Coming into Tuesday’s meet, Mancuso knew it was going to be a battle between his team and New Paltz, and while the Huguenots got the top individual spot when Diego Schillaci won the 7.5-kilometer skate race in 26:30, the Panthers filled the next three spots to secure a three-point victory.
“Our mentality was that anybody can beat anybody on any given day, and they looked great from start to finish,” Mancuso said. “They looked great from start to finish.”
Alex Temidis, Greg Marcinik and Jordin Marwin finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th to combine enough points to win the day.
Mancuso said they had been falling in those spots all season but said Marcinik and Marwin stepped up to help key the Panthers’ victory.
“They were the key people in order for us to win,” Mancuso said. “They had to have really good times for us to win. Our captain Alex Temidis has been comfortable all this season leading our team.”
The girls’ team finished second in a two-team field, as New Paltz scored 15 points to seal the championship over the Panthers.
New Paltz took the top three spots and Wallkill’s two skiers Andie Psilopoulos and Elizabeth Pushman finished fourth and seventh.
Mancuso stepped forward this year to help lead the team with her performances this season and Pushman, a second-year skier, was a leader on both the boys’ and girls’ teams.
The skiers benefited this year from a snowy February, as the skiers depend on natural snow, as opposed to its Alpine counterparts that can ski on artificial snow.
After a delayed winter season, the Panthers finally started practicing on Jan. 19 and had meets throughout February.
“Everything was uncertain,” Mancuso said. “We weren’t sure about what was going to happen. I was holding some offseason workouts before the season started that the district approved.”
Most of those offseason workouts were cohorted and in the back area behind the school. Athletes had to wear masks and keep their distance.
“They kept good spirits and that really helped going into the season,” Mancuso said.
The Panthers had 13 total skiers, 11 on the boys’ team, two on the girls’ team and that’s about seven or eight less than previous seasons. Mancuso wasn’t sure if COVID-19 contributed to the fewer skiers.
But he’s upbeat about the future.
“I’m really excited,” Mancuso said. “We’re losing a lot of talent, but we’ve had others stepping up and really enjoying the sport. Our goal is to continue to recruit and join this fun sport that not too many people know about.”