Learning to improv: Braves girls stuck indoors

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone girls’ track team has done its best to improvise during a year in which winterlike conditions seem to have no end.

Although it appears the Braves will likely remain indoors this week, at least they’ll have a meet under their belts after Tuesday.

Gladstone will compete in Tuesday’s Marquette Invitational, which begins at 1:30 p.m. at Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome.

“The distance runners have gone outside,” said coach Jim Murtha. “We have long straightaways in our school for the sprinters. But nothing is like going to the track. We have to continue to keep kids interested and injury free. We’re stressing to them to ice down after practice because it helps a lot.”

Gone through graduation is last year’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 pole vault champion Laura Alexander.

The Braves have five seniors on this year’s team of 41, including defending U.P. discus champion Jessica Young.

“Jess has done a great job the past three years,” said Murtha. “She has some big goals. She wants to cap it off with a big year.”

Remaining seniors are Andrea Starr in the hurdles and sprint relays, Allison Dagenais (pole vault), Swedish exchange student Emma Ferritsius (running events) and Cassandra LaMarche (1600-meter run), who was overseas as an exchange student last year.

Juniors include Marissa Leisner (sprints), Anna Wulf (middle distance and sprint relays), Mackenzie Gay (weight events), Kelsey King (weight events and hurdles), Kayla Wiltzius (high jump and 1600) and Abby Flaminio (long jump and sprints).

Top sophomores Josie Gardner (distance), Kelsey Fournier (middle distance and high jump), Iris Robare (long jump and sprints) and Jaime Snowaert (pole vault).

Leading the freshman class is 6-foot-2 Izzy Mathews in high jump and distance.

“We have some promising newcomers, but they have to prove themselves,” said Murtha. “We’re looking for places to put them.

“We’re trying to establish our order in the relays. I think we’re pretty strong in the field events. Right now, we’re mainly focusing on form and technique.”

After Tuesday’s opener, the Braves are scheduled to visit Kingsford Thursday.

“I know Carlee Benzie is a strong athlete,” said Murtha. “Otherwise, I’m not sure who else they (Kingsford) have. I’m sure they’ll be competitive.”

Murtha, however, points to Marquette as the team to beat in the Great Northern Conference.

“Marquette has a lot of fast kids and distance people,” he added. “Escanaba is always good, and Menominee has a lot of good, young athletes.

“Houghton and Calumet should be strong in the U.P. Finals and Sault Ste. Marie always has good vaulters, sprinters and relays.”