SDC meet can’t cure track teams’ cabin fever

HOUGHTON – Not only was it the first competition of the Copper Country track and field season at the Michigan Tech Indoor Invite Thursday, it was the first real workout of the year for most of the participating teams.

The lack of a typical spring thaw has proved devastating for preseason preparation, with all local tracks still covered in snow – including a “belly-deep depth” at Houghton according to boys’ coach Dan Junttila – that have reduced practices to stair routines, half-shoveled parking lots and some sprinting work inside the gym.

So it was a blessed relief for most runners Thursday to lace up on an appropriate surface for the non-scored meet.

“It is just nice to be able to get a workout in,” Lake Linden-Hubbell girls’ coach Gary Guisfredi said. “We haven’t had hardly any opportunity to get outside, and when we do get outside it is on a side walk half filled with snow and wet or a street that’s full of gravel. A lot of our practices have been in the building because of the temperature and precipitation. So this has been a nice day to have the kids get a workout in that is competitive against other schools. … They find out real early that they are not yet in shape for where they want to be.”

Unfortunately, there is little relief on the horizon. After another indoor meet in Marquette next week inside the Superior Dome, the first two Copper Country outdoor meets of the year have been cancelled, with the season opener scheduled for April 23 at Houghton and an April 26 contest at Hancock cut completely from the schedule.

The Copper Country Invite set to take place April 30 at Hancock has been moved back to May 10.

As it stands right now, there will be no local meets until the start of May, and that date could keep getting pushed back depending on how the weather cooperates.

“I have been in the area coaching track off and on for 33 years, and this is the first time that I can remember in 33 years that we have had this much snow at this time of the year,” Guisfredi said. “We have had heavy winters, but usually we get some sort of thaw in the spring, but we haven’t had that thaw yet. In 33 years of being involved in athletics, I think this probably tops them all.

“We are not going to have a local meet in April.”

The rust was evident Thursday with times nowhere close to approaching peak performance and several issues handing-off among the relay teams.

Still, the joy of actual competition was evident among the participating teams as cheering and support rang continuously through each race.

Just thankful to run on a real track, the Calumet supporters organized a full-bodied “Wave” around the final turn for their teammates in the 1600-relay.

Among local winners, Ontonagon’s Lori Wardynski doubled up in the 60-meter hurdles and 60-meter dash, while LL’H’s Sarah Audette cleared 8-feet in the pole vault to medal in the field event.

On the boys side, Calumet enjoyed a number of individual winners, opening the day with a podium sweep of the 60-meter hurdles with Paul Torola (first), Brendan Jacques and Chad Sturos flexing some early-season form.

“Our goal was to be competitive, get on the track and don’t hurt anybody,” Guisfredi said. “So it was a successful day in that sense. We know that we are not where we want to be in a month from now, but it is a good first step.”

From here, the coaches’ creativity will be put to the test to keep their team’s mentally engaged despite the less-than-ideal practice circumstances.

Which coach best manages his team through the gym practices might be best positioned when the meets (finally) take place outside.

“We are going to have to come up with a plan to be competitive inside the team,” Guisfredi said. “Whether it’s in the school or the parking lot – we have to get them as close to a meet situation as possible, which is going to be hard. The kids will hit a lag when they get tired of just practicing, so we will have to come up with creative ways to be competitive in practice.”