UMPI ski team ready to compete this weekend

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PRESQUE ISLE, Me (WAGM) - The UMPI ski team starts the season with some races in Aroostook County this weekend. First year head coach for the Owls Tim Whiton and his team are ready to start competing.

"First races are in Fort Kent this weekend. They're Eastern Cup Races, so they're more open and high school type of races. Qualifiers for the junior national team. We've got a couple boys looking at that as well if they don't qualify for collegiate national championships. Our first college races kick off in the middle of January," Whiton said.

Junior Connor Hrynuk returns after last year finishing third in the Eastern Collegiate Championships and competing in junior nationals. The Owls overall have a lot of youth.

"It's a young team which is really nice as a coach because that means you have lots of time to torture them for a few years and make them really fast. Men's team especially is looking pretty strong. Top team in the state last year and I think we're looking to do that again this year. Women's team is looking awesome as well. We've got a senior girl who's coming back and building from the past and building towards this year. Maybe we'll keep her for next year too, maybe she'll come back. Our freshman girl is looking really strong as well," Whiton said.

The team has enjoyed having Whiton on board as head coach.

"Tim's been a really good coach. He's introduced some great things into my training that I think will show some good results," said freshman Nino Manzella.

"He's awesome. He's like the perfect combination of not making things too stressful and also having high expectations of us," added senior Valentina Annunziata.

This season is Whiton's first year as a head coach at the collegiate level. He has been a head coach at the high school level in the past and says the two types of ages are very similar.

"The pieces to the puzzle are still the same in terms of the training and the logistics and things like that. Just at a higher level and maybe a little more pressure," Whiton added.

The Owls only have five skiers with three on the men's side and two on the women's side. The group is very close.

"I think that having a small team is great because you get more one on one time with coaches, and more time to get to know the other athletes. It's kind of like a mini family, I guess like a ski fam that we have up here," freshman Leinani Farnsworth said.