Jaywalking: Mohawk skiers employ offseason edge

  • Mohawk’s Taylor Loomis competes in the slalom during the PVIAC Individuals at Berkshire East Mountain Resort on Feb. 13 in Charlemont.

  • Mohawk’s Ashley LaCross competes in the slalom during the PVIAC Individuals at Berkshire East Mountain Resort on Feb. 13 in Charlemont. Recorder file photo/Dan Little

  • Mohawk’s Ashley LaCross competes in the slalom during the PVIAC Individuals at Berkshire East Mountain Resort on Feb. 13 in Charlemont. Recorder file photo/Dan Little

Monday, March 05, 2018

Three weeks ago, I was making my way around the base of the mountain at Berkshire East in Charlemont during the PVIAC Individual Championships when I spotted what looked like a walking sports banner. You know the banners I’m talking about. They adorn high school gymnasiums, hanging proudly to honor past teams for league and western Massachusetts title and individual accomplishments. It’s not usually the type of thing you see waltzing around a ski resort, but there it was, or so I thought.

Well, actually it turned out to be the back of a coat, and it listed all the years that Mohawk had won league titles, which meant it had to belong to longtime Warriors’ coach Dave Chula.

According to Chula, who retired following the 2006 season, the coat was a gift given to him by his team after they torched his previous Mohawk coaching jacket following the season in 2006. That coach was rather old and if my memory serves me correctly, Chula made a deal with the team that they could burn the coat if they won the league title that season. So when the team held its end-of-season banquet, the coat was sacrificed and replaced by the players with the one Chula doned at Individuals.

I had not seen Chula in years, so I approached him and we chatted as the skiers made their way down the mountain. He is now living in southern Vermont but still keeps up with the newspaper online. He was also curious why we don’t run skiing standings in the newspaper on a regular basis, to which I just stood there dumbfounded with no good answer.

Our chat soon turned to the current Mohawk team, specifically the girls’ squad, which has enjoyed as successful a season as Mohawk has had in quite some time. It harkened back to the days when Chula coached and winning league titles was a foregone conclusion before the first snowflakes fell on the mountain. Eventually, I mentioned to Chula that I needed to start interviewing some of the skiers and he told me I should ask them about the dry-land training they did before they even hit the mountain.

I did.

Turns out that Mohawk girls’ coach Brandon Boucias, a 1986 Mohawk graduate who played soccer, skied and ran track at the school, has devised workout routines for athletes that begin long before the ski season. Beginning in the summer, Boucias meets Warriors athletes from all different sports to recommend one of the many workouts he has devised. Whether its straight running or using one of any number of props (think sort of like a Bonefrog or Spartan course event), Boucias said he tries to come up with ideas to keep things fresh.

“We do a lot of unconventional things,” he explained. “We really stress that all sports have their strengths and weaknesses, so we try to do things for everyone.”

Boucias said that he had players from many sports showing up for the workouts, and he also had athletes from other schools showing up to take advantage. He said that keeping the student athletes interested in workouts can be challenging, but he found that many of the athletes who came once, kept returning.

“Is it a trick in this day and age to get kids to really go hard?” he said. “It can be. And I’m not saying we figured it out. What we’ve done is we’ve managed to — if we can get the kids to take the first step — keep them locked in.”

Mohawk boys’ coach Sean Loomis, who is more of the stats guy when it comes to the coaching tandem, took over the program seven years ago. He had previously served as a Chula assistant after graduating from Mohawk in 1992 as a football, ski and track athlete. Loomis, who was coaching both the boys’ and girls’ teams that first year, asked Boucias if he wanted to help run workouts for the team that season, and the two worked so well together that they were hired as co-coaches following the season. Loomis had a daughter coming up, and Boucias had a son, so the two decided to take over the team they would not have a child on.

Not that it matters much, since the boys and girls do nearly everything together, including all of the training away from the mountain. It’s that training, along with the work the student athletes put in out of season, that has led the Mohawk girls’ program back to the top of the mountain (bad pun intended).

The Warriors, who were elevated into the PVIAC North Division this season, ran away with the league title this winter and enter today’s All-State meet at Berkshire East with a chance at a top-five finish or better.

“I’m really excited,” Mohawk freshman Taylor Loomis said. “I think we can get top five, and if we all do really well, maybe top three. I don’t really think there is any pressure on us. I just want to do well.”

Three of Mohawk’s top skiers — Loomis, Erin Laffond and PVIAC Individual champ Ashley LaCross — all spoke about the dry-land training and how it has prepared them.

Laffond said that working out has become a passion of hers, so she takes advantage of the sessions throughout the summer and during the preseason.

“I’ve been doing the workouts for a few years now, and while you do see it repeat every now and then, he keeps it fresh,” she said. “One thing that is always there is the mental challenge that it brings. I think that’s a big factor that I like. You can challenge yourself.”

Boucias said that when junior Laffond was a freshman, she spoke in front of the girls during one workout and explained how they served as an anchor for other elements of life, such as academics and social and physical activities. He said that it served as a perfect example of how athletes who want to be part of something can be so successful. Laffond echoed the coach and said that it’s been a point of the team to ensure that everyone feels welcome.

“Our girls are so welcoming, they make it fun,” she said. “Dry-land definitely has to be fun, too. It can’t be work, work, work all the time. Dry-land not only helps with getting our endurance up, it also helps create tight-knit connections on the team.”

Her statement did not ring hollow, because later in our conversation when I asked her about her excitement level heading into All-States, she didn’t speak about the team’s chance to do well, or about her chance to do well, but instead about two or her teammates — freshman Amelie Rowehl and eighth-grader Ariea Heilman — getting the opportunity to ski at their first States.

“I’m excited that a couple of our younger girls are getting their first chance at the state meet,” she said.

And don’t kid yourself, not every athlete on the team loves all the workouts. Both freshmen stars — Loomis and LaCross — admitted to hating running, but each recognized how valuable it is. Loomis said that she sees the dry-land training paying off in her team’s endurance, while LaCross said that she is no fan of distance running but appreciates how everyone on the team gets into it.

“The team is really supportive and really positive and no one gives up,” LaCross said. “People will stand at the finish line and usually the team cheers on whoever is still running.”

There figures to be plenty of cheering at today’s state meet, which gets underway at 9:30 a.m. at Berkshire East. Each skier will get one morning run, and the skiers will break for lunch before returning in the afternoon to switch events. The top three skiers from each team (based on their combined times in the giant slalom and slalom) will determine the team score.

Mohawk has a full contingent of girls skiing at today’s meet, led by LaCross, Loomis, Laffond and senior captain Lizzie Herzig. The Mohawk boys’ team will be represented by Dan White, Bennett Boucias and James Harrison. Frontier Regional School will also take part and will be represented by Corriann Delaney, Anna Zera and Maddie Raymond.

If you’re wondering just how effective the training is, consider this: According to Boucias, four of his girls can do at least 20 pull-ups, which is amazing.

“Kids are doing things they never thought they could do,” he said.

There is also an award given out by the team at the end of the season called the “Angry Gorilla Award,” which goes to an athlete who makes every practice and competition during the season. Currently, four skiers qualify.

The Turners Falls Snappers?

The Turners Falls Logo/Nickname Task Force has released its list of finalists and many Powertown residents were not happy to see “Tribe” not on the list.

The full list can be found online but, honestly, there are not that many great options. If I were a betting man, I would bet my house on “Pride” as the eventual winner. Maybe the Coyotes, Powertown or Thunder as possible longshots.

Two of the names — Powertown Pride and Powertown Turbines — are much too wordy, while others such as the Blue Heron or Great Blue Herons don’t really do it for me. There’s also the “Snappers,” which leads me to believe someone may have been asleep at the wheel during the voting process, since that word is used in the gutter.

Here’s to hoping “Pride” prevails in the end and this whole situation finally comes to a merciful close.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.