Gremlin boys best in crowded WestPAC field

STAMBAUGH – Depth became a common denominator for the Houghton boys and West Iron County girls Wednesday as they were crowned champions in the WestPAC conference track meet.

The Houghton boys scored 90 points, followed by two-time defending champ Calumet 77 1/2, L’Anse 75, West Iron County 56 1/2 and Hancock 54.

West Iron’s girls gained more breathing room as they retained their title with 136 points. They were followed by Calumet 88, Houghton 71, Hancock 41 and L’Anse 12.

The Houghton boys grabbed three places each in the 400-meter dash, 800 and 3200 runs and pole vault.

“We had the good fortune of being deeper than the other teams and that was our strength today,” said Houghton coach Dan Junttila. “We knew there was a lot of parity in our conference this year. In more than 20 years of coaching, I don’t remember this much parity in the WestPAC. This made it fun because the kids who placed fourth and fifth knew they were helping the team. This is a nice shot in the arm for us. This is also exciting because we’re a young team.”

The West Iron girls took first in eight events and grabbed two or more spots in seven.

“Every meet this year we had big gains, but today we didn’t have the big gains,” said West Iron coach Kristi Berutti. “Although, we’re ecstatic to win the WestPAC again. The girls have outstanding attitudes. They want to see gains and they’re always striving to get better. We still have a lot of work to do and we’ll get after it. We’ll be all right.”

Houghton junior Jacob Colling was selected the boys’ top distance runner and the overall Most Valuable Athlete. He cruised to victory in the 800 in a personal-best two minutes, 9.8 seconds, 1600 (4:55.12) and 3200 (10:56.98) and helped the winning 3200 relay.

“Breaking 2:10 in the 800 is exciting,” said Colling. “That was one of my goals this year. I seem to be getting the hang of running the 800. It’s a unique distance run because it’s better to go out fast. My legs felt pretty good, but I was pretty tired in the 3200. I just did what I had to do to get first. I had also been battling little bit of a calf problem and cut back slightly on my training.”

Joe Dobbs added a first for the Gremlins in pole vault with a leap of 11 feet.

Kurt Keranen provided Calumet with its lone first in high jump (5-6).

L’Anse had a triple-winner in senior Ryan LaBerge, who captured the 100 (11.3) and 200 (23.3) and anchored the winning 400 relay. Also, he was runner-up in long jump (18-4 1/2).

“I’m very pleased with the way everything went,” said LaBerge. “I exceeded my expectations. This was my first time running the 100, but I knew if I stayed with our guy (Brandon Kempainnen) who won the regional, I could run a good time. I had real good starts today.

“We were going for a school record in the 400 relay, but had a little miscommunication and had a couple bad handoffs. We need to stay healthy and keep doing what we’re doing. We also have to eat healthy.”

Kempainnen was runner-up in the 100 (11.49) and 200 (23.75) and led off the 400 relay.

Hancock senior Jacob Jarvis, selected the boys’ top sprinter and hurdler, became a triple winner. He dominated the 110 hurdles (16.15) and 300s (41.29), anchored the winning 800 relay and second-place 1600 relay.

“I started going to the weight room, but for skiing,” said Jarvis, who was also a member of the school’s ski team. “That’s where it all started and I liked what it was doing. Having a warmer day than we’re used to also helps. You leg muscles just work better than in the cold weather. We had snow on our track up until three weeks ago. This is only our third meet outdoors.”

Sophomore teammate Gage Hawthorne captured shot put (50-9 1/2) and discus (139-7) and was named the meet’s top field events athlete.

West Iron junior Tori Harris was selected the league’s top girls’ distance runner.

Harris, fueled by a strong finishing kick, won the 1600 (5:45.51). She also took the 800 (2:38.71) and 3200 (12:57.62) and helped the winning 3200 relay.

Calumet’s Leah Kiilunen, who led much of the 1600, finished second at 5:52.99.

“I thought she had me,” Harris said of the 1600. “I was tired and really had to dig down deep for that one. Our coach tells us ‘when you’re tired, run with your heart.'”

West Iron’s Cassilyn Pellizzer became the top female athlete in the hurdles and sprints, taking the 100 hurdles (16.88) and 300s (49.56), helping the winning 1600 relay and placing third in high jump (4-8).

Calumet junior Chelsea Jacques, selected overall MVP and the top athlete in the sprints and hurdles, copped the 100 (12.52), 200 (26.85) and 400 (1:01.83) and anchored the winning 800 relay.

“I think my starts went pretty well,” said Jacques. “I remember having a false start in the 100 down here last year and that was in the back of my mind. Although, I’ve been focusing on my starts more this year. I’m excited for the U.P. Finals, and I think today’s meet gets me fired up.”

Houghton senior Elisa Jurmu, who was named the top field events athlete, won high jump (4-10) and discus (94-9).

Nicole St. Martin added a first for the Gremlins in pole vault (7-0).