Athlete Spotlight: Mount Anthony's Jack Drew and Noah Payne
Mount Anthony Nordic skiers Jack Drew and Noah Payne led the Patriot boys to its first state championship in a decade a couple of weeks ago at Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton.
The race for the crown came down between two Southern Vermont powers — Mount Anthony and Brattleboro — and to the final event of the four-part championship, the team relay.
Then for an encore, Drew and Payne helped Team Vermont cruise to an Eastern championship at Fort Kent in Maine the next week.
We brought the pair in to the Banner offices this week to talk about winning a title, getting involved with the sport at a young age and positive self-talk.
Bennington Banner: Take me through the day of the state championship at Rikert. It was back and forth between [MAU] and Brattleboro throughout.
Jack Drew: We were nine points ahead going into the individual race. [Ed note: The state championship in Nordic skiing is split into two days, two races each day.] If we added two more points in the individual race, we could have finished second in the classic relay and it wouldn't matter what Brattleboro did.
Noah Payne: But they cut into our lead so that set us back some. Basically, it meant we had to win the relay.
Banner: What was the feeling around the team after the individual race?
Payne: That day was really hard to wax for, it could have been one of those things, [Brattleboro] could have just hit the wax for the individual race right. I was confident we could go out and crush the relay, but there was definitely some anxiety there.
Drew: I wasn't fully aware of the points [in the moment], I thought we were OK, right before I heard that we needed to win the relay. We spread ourselves out, but they stacked the back end [with their better skiers].
Banner: Jack, you were the first leg of the four-person relay. How was it trying to get your team off to a good start?
Drew: I knew I had to put a bunch of time on their first guy, so that our second and third [racers] were in a good position.
Banner: After the first leg, you guys were about 40 seconds ahead. Your second racer was Austin Martinka, someone who only started skiing this season and began the year racing in JV events. What are you thinking watching him go around the course?
Payne: One thing about Austin is he will go out and fight for the team, he's a go-getter and a strong guy. He just took off. Rikert does two loops, it goes out and then back through the stadium and I was counting in my head the time and I realized he wasn't losing any.
Banner: Austin was only three seconds slower than Brattleboro's second racer, Declyn Tourville, and you guys still had a good-size lead for the third leg, run by Garrett [Joly]. You have to have the strong third leg to get to the anchor.
Drew: My thought was as soon as Austin came in, he's not letting [Declyn] get any time on him. We had it, Garrett just had to hold on and have a good race and that's what he did.
Banner: The lead remained at about 20 seconds as the anchor legs started.
Payne: Jack put a lot of time on them, but it started to shrink a little bit, especially setting up their relay the way they did, with the fastest guys going last. I put everything I had into that leg. There was one of the skiers from U-32, Grayson [Davis], [Ed note: Both the Division I and Division II races happened concurrently.] and he was about five seconds ahead. I wanted to race him and latch on. I knew Henry [Thurber, the final Brattleboro skier] is a good hunter, he can ski behind people and catch up. So I skied with Grayson and we put a ton of time on Henry and had a pretty comfortable finish.
Banner: In the end, you won the race by 44 seconds overall to secure the championship. You knew when you finished that the title was yours, you didn't have to wait for the scoring. What was going through your mind?
Payne: For me, it was just relief. I've been dreaming about it, this is what I have to do and I wanted that. I wanted to see [Coach] Rob [Short] and [assistant] Travis [Mattison] at the end there, it was pretty surreal.
Drew: The two real stressful legs are the first and last, I know what Noah was going through. I kind of choked at [the Marble Valley League championships] and I wanted to come back and win states, it was better I went first and Noah was last. Seeing Noah cross the finish line with Henry not anywhere near him, I had a smile on face from ear to ear.
Banner: The weather on the day of the championship was all over the place, with sun and cold and snow. You talked about having the right wax at the right time, how does a certain wax help for certain weather conditions?
Drew: Snow texture and snow temperature have a lot to do with it, the temperature of the snow in the sun is going to be different then the snow temperature in the shade. You have to try and wax for what there's more of, it's hard to get it perfect for both.
Payne: It started out cold, so the snow went from nice, sharp snowflakes to rounded ones, which have a lot of water content in them. That makes it more difficult to find the right wax. Right around freezing is the weirdest temperature to wax for.
Banner: How does having Prospect Mountain as your home course help for those big races at Rikert or Craftsbury?
Drew: Rikert is similar to Prospect, layout-wise. There's a couple of pretty steep uphills, the back kilometer or two is different though. Craftsbury, there's just a bunch of big, steep hills one after the other.
Payne: The last 2K of Craftsbury is insane, it climbs up, then it's flat, then it goes up again on Screaming Mimi. It's named appropriately too. It goes up and then turns a corner and climbs more, which is brutal.
Banner: What is it like to have a course like Prospect right in Bennington?
Payne: I started skiing when I was in about second grade, Prospect is pretty top-notch as far as trails go.
Drew: I started skiing when I was like two, and then got into the Bill Koch league when I got into first grade and it goes to eighth grade and then you go to the high school.
Banner: After the state championship, the next week, you represent Vermont at the Eastern states championship and win that as well. What is that experience like?
Drew: It's a completely different atmosphere, but at the end of the day, we're all there to do the same thing. We all share the same passion, we're around people with the same mentality we have.
Banner: Is Easterns a little easier because there's so much pressure about winning the Vermont state championship?
Payne: The depth of Nordic skiing in Vermont is crazy. Junior Nationals overlapped with Easterns, the fastest Vermont kids went to Alaska. So it was cool to have a lot of the public school kids representing Vermont, that doesn't always happen.
Banner: Jack, you had a top-10 in the 7.5K classic race at the regional. When you finish eighth in such a terrific field, what do you think afterward?
Drew: At the beginning, there was a pile up in front of me, I fell, and it pushed me through. When I got to the finish, I looked around, this is the only people who finished in front of me? It was a weird feeling and I was not expecting that result.
Banner: With skiers like Shaftsbury's Andy Newell and Peru's Sophie Caldwell, along with other Vermont skiers at the highest levels, how have watching them inspired you?
Payne: It's very competitive at that level. But skiing is one of those community activities, there's ways that I personally would like to spread it as more of a recreational thing to bring people together. It's a really cool part of skiing. But it is inspiring to see people like Jessie Diggins and local Vermonters kicking butt at the highest level, that's our people. Sometimes we train with them and the [Stratton Mountain School] group, it's pretty cool to see those guys on TV swinging it with the Norwegians.
Banner: What type of music do you listen to getting ready for a race?
Drew: It depends on the mood that morning, it could be anything, 70s, 80s, country, it ranges all the way.
Payne: I listen to this guy who does mediation stuff, it's like positive self-talk, he talks about centering your body, getting ready for competition. It helps if you struggle with nerves and getting nervous for races. I found it on Spotify and I'm like, I'm going to give it a shot.
Banner: What is next for you guys? Noah, as a senior, college is on the horizon, but Jack, you have one more year remaining at MAU.
Payne: I'm exploring a couple of options for skiing, eventually I'd like to get into the medical field, I'm interested in the sciences. I'd like to ski in college, and even if not, I definitely want to continue skiing as an adult.
Drew: You never know what's going to happen, I'd like to go in for ROTC, something like that. Hopefully I can ski in college.
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