Lebanon’s Illsley setting her own Nordic skiing tracks

  • Lebanon’s Anna Illsley (42) leads the race followed at a distance by her teammate Sophie Longacre (44) during a Nordic ski meet in Meriden, N.H., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Skiers from Lebanon, Hanover, Keene, Bow and ConVal high schools take off in a mass start during a cross country ski meet in Meriden, N.H., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex DriehausA

  • Hanover freshman Owen Welch, center, brushes his skis after waxing them before a Nordic ski meet in Meriden, N.H., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • From left, Hanover skiers Natalie Wainwright, Heidi Davis, June Clark, Mia Bagnato and Anna Healey cheer on their teammate Lachlan McCann (56) as he tries to catch up to Lebanon’s Conner Chinn (12) in the final stretch of their race during a cross country ski meet in Meriden, N.H., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/2/2022 9:46:52 PM
Modified: 2/3/2022 10:00:06 PM

MERIDEN — Anna Illsley distinctly remembers the first time she put on cross country skis.

Illsley, now a senior at Lebanon High, was in first grade at the time. Her mother, Sara, did not allow her to carry poles because, in Anna’s words, “she wanted me to learn the right way.”

Now, the younger Illsley is learning from her mother’s former mentor. Sara Illsley competed in Nordic skiing for the Raiders under head coach Les Lawrence — now in his 42nd season in that role — before graduating in 1994. Anna is one of the centerpieces of the current team, which is looking to defend its NHIAA Division II state title from last year.

“My mom is my biggest role model, and I’m so glad to follow in her footsteps,” Illsley said. “It’s just so nice how I can connect with her this way. She loves seeing me out here every day.”

Illsley cruised to a victory in Wednesday’s 5.5-kilometer classic race at Plainfield Elementary School, 13.6 seconds ahead of sophomore teammate Sophie Longacre and 17.5 ahead of another Raider, senior Zoe Chinn, as Lebanon swept the top three positions.

The Raiders won the girls race easily, finishing 34 points above second-place Hanover. The Lebanon boys team, which was second at last year’s state meet, also won Wednesday, with Hanover 27 points back. Senior Daniel Mladek took third, senior Seth Carl was fourth and senior Sam Shipman fifth for the Raiders.

The unseasonably warm conditions made an already difficult course even tougher. Just a week ago, Lebanon competed at the same course on a much colder day, and Illsley’s time of 21 minutes, 36 seconds — good for third place — was more than three minutes faster than her time Wednesday (24:47).

“I prefer to ski in colder weather,” Illsley said. “Warmer weather is definitely more tricky. It was very slow today, and it felt like spring. Doing a winter sport in this weather is hard for everyone, but my team performed amazing for these conditions.”

Illsley joined the team in seventh grade and has steadily improved each year. She keeps a folder in her desk at home with the results of every race since her freshman year to track her progress, which has been immense.

As a freshman, Illsley said she was the seventh- or eighth-fastest skier on the team, and she has moved up around two spots each season. She spent her whole summer and fall training on dry land, from biking and running to practicing on roller skis to lifting weights.

“Hard work doesn’t always guarantee results, but it’s nice to see when it does, and for her this year, it has,” Lawrence said. “She’s had a great year, and she’s earned every bit of it.”

Lawrence’s team has come a long way since the early ’90s — Sara Illsley estimated that the Raiders rostered just 12 skiers during her high school days. This year, they boast a whopping 54, not counting middle schoolers. She helped out at Wednesday’s race as a volunteer at the finish line.

“You always want to try and make (Lawrence) proud,” she said. “He is just the type that will give you everything. He’ll put everything aside to help you. As long as your heart’s in it, his heart’s in it, and he wants the best for everybody. He’ll welcome anybody to the team, and he just wants to see you grow and learn.”

Illsley fell to the ground almost immediately after crossing the finish line, but according to her, that was a good sign — she said if she’s not on the ground, she knows she hasn’t skied her best race.

Although her high school career will come to a close this winter, Illsley plans to come back to help the Raiders next year during her college breaks. For now, though, she’s focused on helping her team run it back and win another state championship.

“Coming to practice is the highlight of my day,” Illsley said.

“My sophomore year, we got second, and last year we got first, and this team has just grown so much. It would mean the world to place that high again.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.




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