Braves look to reclaim Division 1 U.P. track title

ESCANABA – There may be a sense of urgency among members of the Gladstone boys’ track team as they prepare for Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Finals at Kingsford.

The Braves hope regain the Division 1 championship, which was won by Marquette the past three seasons.

Gladstone had taken the title six consecutive years prior to Marquette’s current run.

“I think the kids, especially the seniors, are pretty excited for Saturday,” said Braves’ coach Gary Whitmer. “There’s also little bit of apprehension. Everybody’s going to be a little nervous. The guys just have to keep doing what they’ve been doing.”

The Finals begin at 10 a.m. with the running of the 3200-meter relay.

Gladstone has shown its strength in the field events all season, where it’s led by seniors Justin Pederson, Jared Vuksan and Zach Sturdy.

Sturdy is shooting for his third straight pole vault title, while Vuksan tries to retain his shot put crown.

The Braves have also shown plenty of speed, with Pederson winning the 100 in a school-record 10.78 seconds at the regional May 16 in Escanaba.

Also qualifying in the sprints are juniors Chris Sedenquist (200 and 400) and Blake Ballard (200) and senior Kyle Kleiman (400).

The Braves, fresh from gaining their second straight regional and Great Northern Conference titles, will try to avoid a repeat of last year’s Finals when they held an 82-55 advantage over Marquette and were then outscored 42-0 by the Redmen in the last four events.

“I think we’ll be well represented in the sprints and the field events,” said Whitmer. “I also think it’s going to be a battle. The kids know they have to perform. We can control our own destiny by performing in what we’re in.”

Kingsford, which won the Houghton regional, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the GNC.

Esky senior Andrew Stenberg returns to Kingsford as defending 1600-meter champ.

“I think Andy likes to run and compete,” said Esky coach Ryan Wender. “I think he’s also looking forward to defending what he did last year. We feel pretty good about our distances. Although, I think all the races from 800 meters on up are going to be tight. Quinlan (Hillesheim) qualifying in the 300 hurdles was a big goal for him. We’re hoping he can run his best time in the Finals.”

Also representing the Eskymos in the distances and middle distances are juniors Jordan Ogren and Jake Walker and sophomore Eric Cousineau.

The Marquette girls, coming off dominating performances in the regional at Esky and GNC meet at Gladstone, are shooting for their third consecutive crown.

Negaunee won the regional at Houghton and followed up by taking the Mid-Peninsula Conference title at Norway.

“I think Marquette is the run-away favorite, and I think we’re going to be real close with Negaunee,” said Esky coach Dan DeLong. “I think we match up pretty well with them, but we need to beat them in the 1600 and 3200 relay. The girls know what’s on the line. They know they have to perform well.”

The Eskymos, relying on their depth all season, didn’t take any firsts in the regional or GNC.

Senior Jessica Young, Gladstone’s lone individual winner in the regional and GNC, hopes to retain her U.P. discus title.

“I think this will be a special meet for our seniors (Young and Andrea Starr),” said Braves’ coach Jim Murtha. “They’re going to be sad and excited. Jessica definitely wants to win discus and set the school record, and we want Andrea to run her best time (in the 100 hurdles). We just need to focus on our individual events and do the best we can.”