Sun Journal Girls Nordic Skier of the Year: Nora McCourt, Mt. Blue

Mar. 29—Mt. Blue junior Nora McCourt had a breakout Nordic skiing season this winter, finishing first in most classical and freestyle races.

That included winning the Class A state title in both races and leading Mt. Blue to its fourth straight team championship.

She also was the top overall Maine finisher, placing fifth, at the Eastern High School Nordic Championships in mid-March.

The dual athlete also runs cross country for the Cougars. In her off time, she can be found at ski camps, roller skiing, mountain biking, running, hiking or at the gym. She's always been active, but Mt. Blue coach Emmy Held said the missing link for McCourt was tapping into her fiery mindset — something she did this season.

The resulting success is why McCourt is the 2024 Sun Journal All-Region Girls Nordic Skier of the Year.

"I've always been super passionate about Nordic skiing, but this year, I felt like I put together technical things," McCourt said. "I really put together my mindset, and a lot of that was the confidence that I came into this season with. I didn't feel too much pressure, and I just let myself have fun with it."

Held said the biggest change she saw in McCourt was increased confidence not only in her ability, but also in her preseason preparation. Held also noted that McCourt did a good job of pushing herself.

"(Nora) advocated like, 'Hey, I want to be spending a little bit more (time with) volume training, what can I do?' And we worked out, 'OK, let's have you do a little extra right before practice kind of thing,'" Held said. "It was neat to just see her taking a much more active role in her training plan."

Held said she's always seen the fire in McCourt, and not just from her bright ginger locks, and thought it was only a matter of time before McCourt was able to compartmentalize her easygoing nature and unlock her athletic ability.

Held said she noticed McCourt do that when she was irritated with twin brother, Henri McCourt, before the Mt. Blue time trials.

"It was rare, they get along really well, they're each other's biggest cheerleaders, it's the cutest thing," Held said. "But she was really frustrated with him right before the time trial, and I started him behind her. When he caught up to her, she just stuck on him like a burr and in the time trials ended up beating all the rest of the boys on our team — and it was just an outrageously fast time for anyone, and especially on the girl's side of the team. She beat all the rest of the girls and all the rest of the boys."

Along with her state titles, McCourt finished first in the Smells Like Ski Spirit Race, the Roy Varney Hornet Classic, the Sassi Memorial and the freestyle and classical races at the KVAC championships.

The Sassi Memorial race was a turning point for McCourt, and she said winning meant a lot with because it was a classical race, and last season she was plagued by injuries, which made classical races more challenging than freestyles.

"I'm proud of how I've improved throughout the season," McCourt said. "I started strong, but I also got stronger as it went on. I'm proud of all the mindset stuff, having a positive attitude. I'm proud of my team for all of their positivity and the support from our coaches. There's a lot of things to be happy about."

Teammate Maya Kellett was often battling McCourt for top finishes — Held called the two "best friends" — and McCourt is quick to mention how exciting it has been to watch Kellett grow as a skier over her high school career, and that she looks forward to leading next year's team alongside her when they will both be seniors.

"We've always been super close, and it's really fun to have someone who's not only my best friend, but also a really good competitor at the same time," McCourt said. "It's really great to push each other at practice and then at races."

Held said it's been fun to watch McCourt "cultivate" a training partner, and thinks Kellett and McCourt have made each other better and more competitive by chasing each other on the course.

"(Nora) had some upperclassmen on our team before that were able to push her, and with them graduating, she didn't have anyone on the girls side that was pushing her as much," Held said. "Maya has really made that next step, and they can train really well together, so it's a neat thing that she's helped cultivate someone that also can function as her training partner."

Although Held is stepping down after five seasons as Mt. Blue's coach and leaving Maine for Alaska, she said she's excited to watch McCourt next season dominate and inspire the younger Cougars to fight for their own best results.

"I can't wait to see her ruling the show and kind of running a lot of those team aspects, because Nora creates a really positive, welcoming culture on the team," Held said. "That would be, you know, success-oriented but also be very inclusive for others."

While winning a race "obviously," feels good, McCourt said, her focus is on a wider array of things such as process goals, post-race feelings and areas to improve rather than only placement. McCourt those things help her navigate the emotions of a "bad placement," and instead focus on the positive aspects of each race.

"For Nora, she just had so much growth this season within, you know, her New England ranking, so I'm excited to see what that looks like if she can push on to even bigger competitions," Held said. "Seeing her come into even more confidence as a leader on the team."

Held said that McCourt's humble nature stands out, especially among her mounting accolades and first-place finishes. She's also brave, kind and welcoming. Behind all that, there is also a rebellious streak. Held said that side came out during team icebreakers and games, when she caught McCourt a few times pushing the boundaries, all in "good-natured fun."

McCourt also is a musician. She plays viola and violin in the school orchestra, as well as the fiddle with the Franklin County Fiddlers, who are taught by Steve Muise. Many of the Mt. Blue Nordic skiers are in the fiddling group, adding another layer of talent to the already tight-knit state championship team.

2023-24 Sun Journal All-Region Girls Nordic Skiing Teams

2023-24 WMC Winter All-Conference Teams