A dry run at the SDC

HOUGHTON – They ran, threw and jumped on a track. An actual, honest to goodness track.

For most of the competitors at Michigan Tech’s Indoor Invite Thursday, that was a blessing in itself.

A day without running shuttle drills in school hallways. A day without climbing gym stairs or dodging ice on residential streets. Real times and real competition.

Such has track and field become in the Copper Country as another prolonged winter has made practicing outside near impossible.

“The competition itself is obviously nice, but we told out girls, we view this as a practice, a chance to get on an actual track,” Lake Linden-Hubbell girls track coach Gary Guisfredi said. “We blew our track off (in Lake Linden), but we have three feet of snow on the football field and its melting so we can’t really run on the track yet with all the puddles. We have been running on the back streets of Lake Linden where you have to dodge cars.”

This year’s Indoor Invite came with another twist too, as a host of schools from the central U.P. – including Marquette, Negaunee, Ishpeming and Munising – nearly doubled the size of the field from last year, giving WestPAC and Copper Country Conference athletes some diverse competition.

While the bigger field made for a longer day – from a 1 p.m. start to a nearly 9 p.m. finish – the added competition was well worth it in Houghton coach Dan Junttila’s mind.

“I was joking with the other coaches, ‘we have to be selfless,'” Junttila said. “It’s not about me getting home on time, it’s for the kids. It’s awesome getting to see Marquette, Negaunee, Manistique. It let’s a kid know that you might be a big frog in a small pond and you have something to shoot for. Or if you are doing well here, with all the competition, that’s a great marker. So I’ll be two hours late for dinner for that.”

For students such as Houghton’s Jacob Colling, a distance runner, the out-of-area competition was more than welcome as he hopes to challenge for the podium at U.P. Finals this season.

Colling and Marquette runner Cole Rieboldt enjoyed one of the most exciting races of the day, with a 1600 meter run both pushed to the final step. Colling’s late kick down the final 60-meter strech couldn’t quite cover the distance, and Rieboldt won by just over four-tenths of a second.

Still, Colling came away with a grin as his second place finish at 4:47.92 set a personal record for him in the mile.

He is very much looking forward to the next matchup with Rieboldt.

“It’s exciting that we can compete like this,” Colling said. “I like getting to race against teams that we don’t normally see this early. Now I know how I match up with those guys.”

Among local winners, Hancock sprinter Jacob Jarvis enjoyed a fast start, taking first in the 60-meter hurdles and second of 50 racers in the 400.

Fellow Bulldog Gage Hawthorne tossed aside the competition in the shot put, clearing an excellent 49 feet, four inches for his first meet of the season. The next closest competitor fell over five feet short of that mark.

On the girls side, Ontonagon’s Lori Wardysnki and Hancock’s Julie Heinonen staged a good battle in the 60-meter hurdles, with Wardynski taking first by two-tenths of a second.

Lake Linden junior Sarah Audette cleared the field in the pole vault, hitting nine feet to best nine competitors. Houghton’s Elisa Jurmu tied Marquette’e Hunter Viitala for first in the high jump with a 5-feet clearance.

For all athletes, the first meet of the year provides that crucial benchmark.

Getting to set an actual time or distance or height allows you to focus in a way no practice could, Junttila said. You find where you are at now and can set concrete goals to get better.

“You want the first mark, you need that first mark,” Junttila said. “That way you have something you can work from, something to improve on. That’s why this meet is so great.”