Coming off the first state championship in school history, there’s a buzz about the Laramie High School Nordic Ski team as they prepare to start a new season.

The Plainsmen broke through last February and will be looking to defend their crown. Meanwhile, the Lady Plainsmen took fifth a year ago and are hoping to take a big step forward.

Rebecca Watson is now in her 16th year as head coach. She admitted even she wasn’t sure what to think coming into the season.

“Really, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised on how quickly and how amazingly well the kids have come together, and how the freshman have integrated really quickly. They’re really a good group of freshman. I’m pleasantly surprised and really excited to see how everything stacks up this next week.”

She like what she saw in the time trial they did last week and how the kids were pushing themselves.

Watson admits that with the boys winning state last February, it’s made a noticeable difference in the teams.

“The tone is a different tone, and they know they have a title to defend, and that they can be there. They also saw what the senior boys (from last season) did, and they want to do it again.”

She feels that’s led to the team gelling quicker than she thought it might.

Watson also said that’s spurred on the girls’ team as well.

“I think this is going to be the strongest girls’ team I’ve had in a number of years. It’s not just on the boys’ side, it has really impacted the girl’s side, too.”

Laramie returns 16 letter winners from the boy’s team and 10 from the girl’s team. That includes three All-State skiers in senior boys Sam Fay and Nathan Kessler and on the girls’ squad junior Abigail Whitman. There are 52 student-athletes on the roster for this winter.

Fay has a lot of high expectations for this season. He visited with KOWB’s David Settle about the upcoming season, how they’re approaching it, their incoming freshman, the competition on the team, and some other fun items.

Watson adds another benefit has been the early snow, which has allowed them to train on the trails more than just dry-land training.

“It’s just been incredible to be able to ski more than we ever were able to ski last year, really, like on the best conditions. It’s really going to give us a big push forward. Just being able to have that time on snow, you just can’t replace that. So, yes, I’m excited!”

It also hasn’t changed how they would be training, whether on the trail or dry-land.

Watson looks at Jackson, Lander, and Casper Natrona as having good teams they’ll be competing against this season.

The first races are in Casper this weekend, Dec. 7 and 8. Friday is meant as a more fun season-opening event with a team sprint relay at 1 p.m. Saturday will be the big, first race of the season, a 5K classic at 10 a.m.

Watson says before she knows what type of teams she has, she needs to see this first race.

“I’m just looking for people going into it with a really good mindset, and really thinking about what they would like to accomplish for this first race of going and seeing where they’re going to be, and then where they want to be at the end of the season. Just give them a baseline, and then give them something more to work on for their next race.”

The schedule takes them around the state to Cody, Pinedale, Jackson, and back to Casper. Plus, there’s a trip to Soldier Hollow, Utah that was scratched last year because of a lack of snow, they really would like to get back to this season in mid-January 2019. The state championships will be in Lander Feb. 22 and 23.