Kiilunen continues WestPAC win string

HANCOCK TOWNSHIP – Legs win cross country races, not names, but Calumet’s Leah Kiilunen made sure the spelling was familiar at the top of the charts Thursday in the WestPAC Finals at McLean State Park.

The sophomore made it at least six wins in a row for the Kiilunen family, pulling ahead of teammate Chelsea Jacques for the individual title and leading the Copper Kings team to the conference crown.

“I was just doing my best and (Jacques) was doing her best and she did great,” Kiilunen said.

Kiilunen finished second last season behind four-time WestPAC and U.P. champion Tara, her older sister. Nikki Kiilunen was the 2008 WestPAC champ.

The healthier of the two, Kiilunen had a significant lead on Jacques entering

the home stretch and went on to win in 20 minutes, eight seconds, a margin of eight seconds ahead of Jacques.

“They train together in practice, they push each other and you just never know who’s going to be on top. Leah today had what was probably her best race of the season,” Calumet coach Arnie Kinnunen said.

The time was 21 seconds better than Tara’s time in winning last year’s race (held in Atlantic Mine), but the weather was significantly different: It was sunny and warm throughout Thursday after hail at the finish last year.

Calumet had four of the top five runners for a 30-point total to win by a wide margin. Host Hancock was second with 56 and Houghton third with 61.

Only Hancock’s Abby Tembruell broke Calumet’s sway over the top spots. She finished third, 49 seconds behind Kiilunen, and was followed by the Kings’ Corey Miller and Abby Helppi.

“Today, the team ran 100 percent. They gave it their all today. Previous races, we were struggling a bit. Today, I think every single runner gave it 100 percent. They really lit it up today,”

On the boys’ side, Houghton’s team depth could not be denied. Leading the way was David Jaszczak, a winner in 17:28. He missed a significant portion of the middle of his season due to injury, and behind him was Jacob Colling (17:30), who missed most of the first half of the year.

Still, Houghton kept trucking, as a third runner, Isaac Stone, earned league most valuable performer, racking up results in their absence.

“The depth is great. Again, the last few races, all seven of my guys finished in the top 15. The depth is tremendous, and I could probably plug in any of my top JV guys and they would probably do just as well as those kids,” Houghton coach Traci Welch said.

Houghton scored just 19 to win easily over Calumet (43) and Hancock (92).

Jaszczak had a clear lead on Colling and Calumet’s Devin Berg, but never a comfortable one.

“It’s really scary because you think they might pass you, but at the same time it pushes you along,” he said.

Berg ended up third, just behind Colling. Stone was fourth, followed by fellow Gremlin Dan Wood.

“I was a little worried at first because Calumet was way up at the beginning, but when they came back out of the woods, they looked terrific. Having five of them up in that top 10 was really good,” Welch said.

The teams will prepare for U.P. Finals at Gentz’s Homestead Golf Course in Chocolay Township a week from Saturday.