Track teams cram for regionals

HOUGHTON – With track and field Regionals looming Thursday, Copper Country athletes aspiring to compete at U.P. Finals have been presented with an atypical challenge this season.

For many, the Houghton County Invite (at Houghton High) Tuesday was just the second outdoor race of the entire year, giving little time to prepare for the all-important qualifying races at Regionals.

According to Houghton boys’ coach Dan Junttila, the mental challenge of gearing up for such an important race after a truncated schedule will be what separates those heading to Kingsford for Finals and those starting summer vacation early.

“This is one of the real challenges I have faced in my 33 years of coaching,” Junttila said. “You need to get them in meet shape, but now the time restraints are such that they have to do what they have to do. They really do have to have that will to win. We tell the kids, ‘in the Regional there are four spots, so just be one of those four.’ If you can get No. 1, that’s great, but just live to fight again and find a way to be in the top four.

“This has been the weirdest season by far in my 30-plus years as a coach. We are usually (practicing) inside for two weeks at the most. This year, eight.”

So with every athlete looking for that extra edge heading into Thursday, Chassell sprinter Jamie Dompier and Calumet sprinter Chelsea Jacques were gifted a favorable opportunity in the final 100 heat Tuesday.

The reigning 100 and 200 U.P. champions in Division 3 and Division 1, respectively, the senior Dompier and sophomore Jacques toed the blocks in what could be the last head-to-head race of the career for the pair, if one sits out the Copper County Invitational, rescheduled to May 28, the Tuesday before the Finals.

To the victor go bragging rights.

Facing a stiff headwind, Dompier gained an initial edge with a start like a cannon shot, pounding the track with lightning turnover. Jacques’ long, loping strides drew her close, but Dompier edged it at the final with a well-timed lunge, securing the No. 1 spot by eight one-hundreths of a second.

As they slowed to a walk, Jacques threw her hands in frustration before giving Dompier a “nice race” high-five.

“She is definitely my competition in this area. Chelsea is a really good athlete,” Dompier said. “If I would have lost I would have been fine with it because she is such a good athlete. But having that competition is awesome. Getting to run against her is really fun.”

With a 12.80 final time, both Jacques and Dompier have timed better before – Jacques owns the U.P. Division I record with her 12.55 dash in last year’s finals – but the head to head competition should provide them the juice they need as they get set for Regionals.

Dompier went on to win the 200 and 400 as well, with Jacques anchoring Calumet victories in the 400 and 800 relay.

“I felt like I could have gone even faster, but then that wind hits you in the face and I wasn’t going anywhere,” Dompier said.

Host Houghton won both the boys (177) and girls (173) team competition, with the boys sprinters holding off a tough Calumet (152 points) challenge.

Gremlin Noah Budd took the sprinting double, gifting the fans with an exhilarating finish in the 200 as Budd edged Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Cody Kumpula by three one-hundreths at the finish line.

The Houghton sprint relays enjoyed success as well, with a photo finish in the 800 relay over LL-H and a comfortable win in the 400.

Hancock put on a nice showing with relay wins in the 3200 and 1600 to end the day.

“Our speed relays were really good,” Junttila said. “That is the first time we have really hit all the exchanges right, and we beat some good teams in Lake Linden and Calumet. It was a pretty good day for the sprinters overall.

“Definitely give Hancock credit for the distance relays. They ran a couple real solid races.”