One last track tune-up

HANCOCK – In 33 years coaching track at Houghton, boys’ coach Dan Junttila believes he has recently hit upon the right balance of strategy for U.P. Finals preparation.

Due to multiple weather complications and postponements this season, the 11-team Houghton County Invite took place Tuesday, just five days before U.P. Finals, presenting local coaches with a dilemma. How hard do you push your team at this point on the calendar? Should an athlete compete in four events, or maybe drop one or two?

Junttila believes he has an answer, and the Gremlin boys won going away Tuesday with a 169 final score, separating from WestPAC champions Calumet (112) who were missing several key performers.

“You won’t get in shape any more,” Junttila said. “You really do have to balance the workouts. You have to keep tuned, but also get a lot of rest for U.P. Finals. So this is perfect for me. We have a Tuesday meet, a decent cool down, work day (today) and then really just take exchanges and long jump steps Thursday, and then nothing Friday. The problem is it took me 30 years to figure that out (laughs).”

On the girls’ side, the Copper Kings wrested the CC Invite title away from Lake Linden-Hubbell by a slim 1 1/2-point margin, finishing with a 103 to edge the Lakes (101 1/2) and Houghton (98 1/2).

Superior individual performances from Chelsea Jacques – who set Copper Country Invite records in the 100 (12.70) and 200 (26.66), as well as anchoring the Kings 400 relay win – and Leah Kiilunen’s pair of distance wins helped Calumet top the Lakes advantage in the field events.

Unfortunately, the Chassell teams were absent Tuesday due to the school’s graduation, preventing a rematch of defending U.P. sprint champions with Panther Jamie Dompier and Jacques. Dompier won the only meeting between the two at Houghton earlier this season.

“Chelsea can really fly,” Calumet girls coach Steve Parks commented after the race. “I think we all would have liked to see Jamie Dompier here one last time for them to go head to head, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Track fans who braved the brisk chill Tuesday were treated to a trio of photo finishes from the boys races, with the 100, 200 and 300 hurdles all requiring a second look to determine the winner.

West Iron County’s Tyler Stafford took the 100 with an 11.71-second dash, but needed to wait through some controversy as his upright gait manipulated some eyes with second place Noad Budd of Houghton leaning through the finish line.

Budd earned his redemption in the 200, outpacing Baraga’s Taylor Lindemann by six one-hundredths of a second with a 25-flat finish.

Finally, the 300 hurdles required some discussion with Calumet’s Chad Sturos and Hancock’s Jacob Jarvis crossing the line at virtually the same time. Absent an actual photo to check at the finish, Sturos was declared No. 1 with a 42.63 run, with Jarvis second at 42.65.

Even after the race, neither Sturos nor Jarvis was quite sure who crossed first.

“That was the closest race I have even been a part of,” Jarvis said. “Man, that was close. I still don’t even know who won.”

For the boys’ distance races, Houghton sophomore Jacob Colling won the double comfortably, breaking 11 minutes in the two-mile (10:51.90) and finishing a breath on the wrong side of five minutes in the 1600 (5:00.07).

“I thought I had it, I really did,” Colling said. “I thought my kick was enough at the end. With 800 to go I was trying to move up to put myself in a good position at the end – just fractions of a second off. It’s still my best of this year by far, but I am kind of bummed I didn’t break it.”

For the girls, Houghton’s depth kept them near the top as the Gremlins came away with the 3200, 1600 and 800 relay titles, while Ashley Laux won a spirited race in the 800 over Lake Linden’s Clara Knight.

The Lakes’ Brittni Kisul continues to knock on the edge of triple digits in the discus, with a 98-9 throw winning Tuesday.