Sunday January 20, 2013

It's hard for anyone to remember when Josie Marshall wasn't an outstanding Nordic skier.

The junior seems to have always been near the top of the pack, even a year after she picked up the sport in eighth grade. That's when she finished ninth in the state.

"I think when everyone starts skiing they feel really awkward," Marshall said. "It clicks and you feel really good about it. Once you get that, you really enjoy being on skis."

Marshall is feeling good this season with three wins in four races. She finished second in the other race to Mount Greylock's Kat Chenail.

"She's always so positive," said Lenox coach Miranda Miller. "She's always pushing herself a little bit over her limits in our workouts and stuff. She has that goal to do what she's been doing this year."

This season, Marshall said her focus in races has been even stronger than usual. She's been zeroing in on technique as a race progresses, instead of just going out and skiing fast. Those in-race adjustments are paying dividends.

She's also been buoyed by summer training with some of her top rivals: Mount Greylock. Marshall does roller skiing and workouts run by the Mountie coaches in the offseason. She's been such a fixture there since her freshman year, Greylock coach Hilary Greene said Marshall is almost like a member of her team.

That hasn't made beating her to the finish line any easier.

"We talk a lot of strategy to figure that one out," Greene said. "Clearly in the last two weeks we haven't done it. Josie's such a competitor. She's not going to want anyone to pass her. We'll see how things play out. Kat does know it's a challenge every week."

Greene pointed not only to Marshall's pure athletic ability but her attitude as a secret to her success. When others may be grimacing at a workout, Marshall is smiling and exclaiming about how fun it is.

Lenox junior varsity coach Patty Spector saw that from Marshall as a seventh grader. Marshall picked Nordic skiing then because she wanted a sport other than basketball to do in the winter. Basketball gyms were too stuffy; she wanted to be outdoors.

"You can sort of tell right from the start the kids that have a natural ability for any sport and she definitely did," Spector said. "That combined with a great attitude, it seemed like it was always fun for her. She has a drive, which makes her want to get better."

Did she ever get better. Marshall had that top-10 at states as an eighth grader. Last year she was fifth as a sophomore.

Still, Marshall hadn't won a race before this season, stuck behind older, more experienced Mount Greylock competitors like the graduated Mackenzie Hitchcock. Now it looks like it's just her and Chenail at the top of the heap.

Marshall said the sport "clicked" for her three years ago, after that first top-10 at state. The question now is what she can do in the next two years in the sport she's come to love.

"The summer after eighth grade, when I did ski training over the summer that was when I realized it's a beautiful sport," Marshall said. "Once you knew what you were doing."