D-1: Redemption for Esky?

ESCANABA – Nobody needs to remind the Escanaba boys what happened at last year’s Upper Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Finals.

The Eskymos, who were odds-on favorites at Munising last season, came into that race undefeated.

Sault Ste. Marie, however, ran its best race of the year and edged Esky 75-80 for the title.

Esky hopes the shoe will be on the other foot in this year’s Finals, which are set for Saturday at Gentz’s Homestead Golf Course in Harvey.

“It takes just one day to win it all,” said Esky coach Jake Berlinski. “Cross country is so different. You can’t control what other teams do. We just have to focus on what we do.”

The meet begins with the Division 1 girls’ race at 11 a.m., followed by championship races for D-2 girls, D-3 girls, D-1 boys, D-2 boys and D-3 boys, all of which will start a half-hour apart. All races are 3.1 miles.

An awards ceremony follows at 3 p.m. at Marquette High School.

The Esky boys were runners-up to Marquette 36-46 in last week’s Great Northern Conference meet at Banat.

“I thought we ran well at the GNC meet, although it wasn’t necessarily a perfect performance,” said Berlinski. “Yet, we got enough out of there, knowing we’re close. I think that’s the biggest thing we could hope for.”

Also expected to join in the title hunt is West-Pac Conference champ Houghton, with Sault as a possible darkhorse.

Marquette is led by senior Cole Rieboldt, who set a course record at Banat in 16 minutes, 22 seconds. Sophomore teammate Lance Rambo was runner-up at 16:45, with Esky junior Eric Cousineau third (16:50) on the Dale Fountain Memorial course.

“Cole ran a phenomenal race,” said Berlinski. “It’ll be fun on Saturday. Our top five runners were in the same vicinity. The Finals are so different from the conference. Every year, some team in the U.P. is going to run its best race at the Finals. There’s always a chance somebody is going to come out of nowhere and run the race of his or her life.”

Sault will likely be without sophomore and last year’s champ Parker Scott, who has been nursing an ITT band injury. Scott ran in two downstate races this season, including the West Bloomfield/Birmingham Brother Rice Invitational where he placed ninth (18:11) on Sept. 7.

Gladstone’s best bet is junior Andrew Olesak, who took 23rd in the GNC meet.

“I would like to see Andrew get under 19 minutes, which he’s capable of doing,” said Braves’ coach Gary Whitmer. “That would give him some confidence for next year.”

The Marquette girls, led by sophomore Lindsey Rudden and freshman Amber Huebner, will be overwhelming favorites Saturday.

Marquette dominated the GNC meet, but Menominee senior Kameron Burmeister became the individual winner in a personal-best 19:04 to remain undefeated this year. Huebner was clocked at 19:09, followed by Rudden (19:12).

“It’s just a matter of seeing if any of the other schools can slide in there and break them (Marquette) up a little,” said Whitmer. “They’re running some nice times. The only way to beat them is to run the same times as they do.”

Freshman Leigha Woelffer, Gladstone’s season-long pacesetter, took fifth (20:11).

“I think she has a shot at the top five,” said Whitmer. “Leigha said she felt good at the conference meet. Our girls had a nice race in our invitational. We would like to see them duplicate that on Saturday. You want to make sure you have everything clicking on that day.”

Esky’s leader in the GNCs was junior Aimee Giese, who took eighth (20:32).

“There’s a lot of depth throughout the U.P.” said Berlinski. “It’s just nice to know our girls traditionally finish strong. Hopefully, we can put it together for one day and go from there.”

It appears both area teams may be in a dogfight for the runner-up trophy. Also expected to be in the chase are defending champion Calumet, Houghton, Menominee and Sault.

“No doubt, Marquette is the team to beat,” said Berlinski. “Their top five runners are unbelievable and their eighth runner ran a 21:30 in the GNCs and won the jayvee race. She would be the No. 1 runner on most other teams. That gives them some leeway. If somebody has a bad race, somebody else can cover them.”