Leaders at the Lodge

COPPER HARBOR – In case anybody thought Chelsea Jacques’ season-opening cross country win Aug. 28 at the Jeffers Invite was a fluke, the already accomplished sprinter proved once again Thursday she’s just faster than every other local high school runner, no matter the distance, no matter the venue.

Sometimes even too fast for her own good.

“I started too fast. It kind of sucked,” she said after crossing the Calumet Invite finish line at the hilly Keweenaw Mountain Lodge course in 21 minutes, 8.06 seconds.

She obviously wasn’t thrilled with the initial pace she set, but neither was the rest of the girls’ varsity field, which included runners from 10 different schools. Ironwood’s Jessica Gering hung with the Calumet standout for more than half the race, but gradually Jacques opened up the eventual 38-second margin she won by.

“Chelsea was a great addition,” Calumet coach Arnie Kinnunen said. “We lost some strong girls last year – Rachel Poyhonen, Tara Kiilunen, Julia Lean, Evelyn Delong – and to have Chelsea come in here (from volleyball in previous fall seasons) is just amazing, it was a nice surprise.”

While Jacques took individual honors and teammate Leah Kinnunen finished third – despite getting cut by a tree branch and visibly bleeding from above the right eye – Houghton had the depth to win the girls’ team competition. The Gremlins had 38 points, ahead of Calumet’s 52, even though they didn’t put any runners in the top three. Kelsie Richards, Sarah Lyle and Marika Abbott finished 4-through-6 and none of the five Houghton runners who factored into scoring finished worse than 12th (of 41).

“The girls all stuck together today, and they looked really good,” Houghton assistant coach Stacey Donnelly said. “They looked better than the last meet, and they should be very proud.”

Hancock (91 points), Jeffers (123), Ishpeming (136), Dollar Bay (139) and Ironwood (145) rounded out the girls’ team competition.

The boys’ results were almost identical in two key ways: one runner dominated the field, and the team winner didn’t have any runners in the top three.

Ironwood’s Jared Joki was sticking with a pack of four runners through about the first half of the race, until he realized the pace wasn’t quite suiting him.

“I don’t normally take the lead, but I felt like everyone was going really slow, so I just decided to put as much distance between us as I could,” said Joki, who finished in 17:40.05, 33 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Isaac Stone from Houghton.

The Gremlins are still waiting for team ace Jacob Colling to recover from injury, and without him they just didn’t have enough to match the Copper Kings’ depth. It was the exact inverse of the girls’ top two results, with Calumet registering 38 points, and Houghton 52, followed in third place by Hancock (91). Jeffers (123), Ishpeming (136), Dollar Bay (139) and Ironwood (145) completed the boys’ standings.

Devin Berg and Mitchell Delong finished 4-5 for Calumet, while Josh and Ethan Larson finished 7-8, with Maxx Frederickson chipping in the fifth score in 15th place.

“We have five boys that are running right around 45 seconds apart, and that’s what you need for cross country,” Kinnunen said.

While the depth wasn’t quite there for Houghton’s varsity boys, the future looks bright, as 18 of the top 22 JV boys’ finishers were Gremlins.

“Most of them start in middle school, and they all seem to stay,” Donnelly said. “They get to know each other so well. It’s like one big happy family.”

All runners Thursday had to battle frequently changing weather conditions, from wind and rain one minute, to sunshine the next. Ultimately, once each of the races started at the northernmost sanctioned high school athletic event in the state, the 50-degree temperatures were perfect for runners to tackle the unusually hilly KML course.

“I think this is going to be one of the toughest courses of the year, right next to Houghton’s,” said Kinnunen of the event Calumet hosted at KML for the second time. “It’s good for this early in the season, it gets the kids in shape, because I’ve been told that the U.P. Finals (at Marquette Oct. 19) is going to be pretty flat. These early-season tough, hilly races are going to condition these kids and get them ready for the U.P. Finals.”