Sometimes the best rivalries turn in to the best friendships. That's exactly what happened with Mount Greylock's Alex White and Will Kirby.
When the duo joined the Nordic ski team as a pair of seventh-graders, it was evident their skill levels were on par.
"Back then, we butted heads a little bit," Kirby said at the state meet. "We kind of wish that the other person would ... I guess I shouldn't speak for Alex, but I was not happy when he beat me."
Fast forward six years, and they're still on each other's heels.
"I think pretty much for the past six years, he's been my competitive partner on the team," White said. "We've gone back and forth, battled a lot."
No year was that more evident than the 2012-13 season. As the Mounties' top skiers, they were looked upon to provide wins, and they didn't disappoint. The seniors were the front-runners in all four league races. With two wins apiece entering the MIAA state championships, they were setting the stage for bragging rights.
Kirby went off a wave ahead of White, and, despite a fall, was able to finish fourth overall. White, while 38.9 seconds behind, finished seventh. The bragging rights might go to Kirby, but both were more excited to claim the team's sixth title in seven years.
As large as Kirby's margin of victory was at the state meet, it wasn't the largest between the two this year. White won by 61 seconds in the second race.
"I don't know
Kirby's run to a fourth-place state result began with a first-place finish in the season's opening race at Prospect Mountain Ski Area. He finished 32 seconds ahead of White (2nd place), which set them off in their best battle to date.
White wasted little time leveling the score with a win in at Wahconah High School in the second race, leaving Kirby to take second. With a mass start, they skied with each other the entire time. They took turns leading in the open fields, but White had the edge at the end, using the final downhill to create just enough separation for the 1-second win.
Having battled so close for so long, White knew a win wasn't guaranteed at any point, but had a sense he had a shot as he neared the finish.
"Once I got to the soccer field, pretty close to the end, that's when I felt like I could finally take it," he said after the race.
White then pulled ahead with his second straight win, this one at Prospect. The difference from the first two races was someone else claimed the second-place spot. It was classmate Sean Houston who snuck in to take second, pushing Kirby to third.
White and Kirby didn't have the luxury of skiing with each other. Few races use a mass start, instead opting to use the wave format. For the best two male skiers in the county, who know their times are so close they can work together, it adds another element to contend with.
"In terms of being in races, you can have a moment where you're like ‘Wow, this hurts a lot,' " Kirby said. "Then you think ‘Yeah, but what if Alex is pushing right now? I don't want to give him a second right now.' "
White's slight lead didn't last long as Kirby regained his spot atop the podium with his second first-place finish of the season in what turned out to be the final race of the regular season.
They were again able to work as a team because of the mass chevron start. Once they reached the agreed upon spot on the final lap, White sped ahead. Kirby reeled him in before too long and passed him before the final downhill.
While Kirby may have ended his career with the better result, they both benefited from the other, and as a result, the team benefited greatly. It's unclear who profited most because both credit the other for his success.
"I can't give him enough credit for how well he skied today, how well he's skied for the past six years," White said. "It's been an awesome experience."
Their battle and work ethic hasn't gone unoticed on the underclassmen, who saw Josh Harrington and Luke Costley battle in a similar way a year ago. A state title ends with the season, but the lessons they taught the up-and-comers will help to keep the Greylock dominance alive.
"They push each other so hard and they make each other work as hard as they possibly can," sophomore Jake Foehl said. "They both had amazing races today and they should be very proud."