The Lakeland Union High School Nordic Ski team has begun its pursuit for a fourth consecutive Wisconsin Nordic Ski League state championship for the boys' team.
Once again the expectations are high for the Thunderbirds as they return a plethora of talent from last year, while also getting an infusion of talent on the girls' team.
Expectations are always high for Lakeland, however, so that should be no different this season.
"They've got good modeling when they're younger so when they're in middle school they see the high school kids and they see the effort they put in," LUHS head coach Jim Mullen said. "They see technically how they ski and it gets them excited and it sets an expectation that to be successful you have to work. The middle school feeder program and we definitely couldn't do it with all new skiers coming in. Most of our competition has developed a good, solid feeder program. It's not easy, but like most other good programs, they have good feeder programs."
There are some holes to fill in the early part of the season. Kieran Mullen returns after taking second in the Classic at state, while placing fifth in the Freestyle. Kav FitzPatrick also returns after placing in the top 20 at state in both events.
Lakeland does have to find people to replace Noah Bodewes after his transfer, while also replacing Luke Bodewes after his graduation.
Johanna Craig, Ashley Peterson and Celeste Teichmiller are all back on the girls' team, while freshman Mia Case has already established a strong reputation during her middle school seasons.
Replacing Noah Bodewes was something cross country had to do in the fall in order to repeat as state champions, but that's not the only thing the two programs have in common.
Many of the skiers are also cross country and track and field participants, and the success and physical attributes carry over into skiing.
"Aerobic base is so important. You can't build that during the season, you have to come into the ski season with it," coach Mullen said. "Part of the challenge - as with all the high school sports - is it's a fairly condensed season. Ours is more condensed by snow issues and if you don't come in with fitness, it's really hard to come into the season with fitness."
One of the unique challenges in nordic ski is that it's completely dependent on the weather. Without snow, it's hard to prepare.
In the early part of the season before the snow hits, Lakeland must find other ways to get ready for the season ahead.
"We work on general athleticism, core strength, balance, mobility - we work on timing through basic dryland drills," Mullen said. "The early season is a little different the maybe running, where with ones who haven't been doing much, you're trying to adjust the tissues and joints to the impact of the sport. Here we're trying to work on the balance and the subtleties of making sure your whole body is working together so when you put your weight on your poles and you start to kick, everything is together instead of arms dropping and you don't go as fast."
During the boys' soccer season, Mullen stressed proper technique throughout the year.
That doesn't change during the ski season, and this is the perfect time of year to refine those technical skills.
"The body works better if you put it in the right position to succeed," Mullen said. "Cross country skiing is a hard sport and if you're not in a good body position to start with, it takes a lot more energy to get to the top of the hills. You go slower, you have to work harder and it's a disadvantage to yourself if you're not technically solid."
Lakeland is scheduled to open the season on Dec. 19 at its invitational at Minocqua Winter Park.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.