By John Vrancic
Special to Second Half
HARVEY — Powers North Central coach Jerry Root and Stephenson junior Connor Cappaert were overcome with emotion following Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals at Gentz’s Homestead Golf Course in Marquette County.
The North Central boys earned their first Division 3 title by edging Pickford 66-68. Third-place Cedarville scored 109 points.
“The whole team stepped up,” said Root, while shedding tears of joy. “These kids worked so hard. They never had a bad attitude one day. To step up the way these kids did today is amazing.”
Cappaert, who was choked up after the meet, captured Division 3 individual honors by covering the 3.1-mile course in 17 minutes, 39 seconds. He was followed by Bessemer junior Zach Mazurek (17:57) and North Central freshman Seth Polfus (18:18) and sophomore Bryce Holle (18:23) on the sunny and seasonably cool day.
“This is so awesome,” said Cappaert, who was crowned Division 2 champion a year ago. “I’ve got to thank God and everyone who supported me. I couldn’t do it without them and our team. Zach really turned it on in this race. The North Central guys ran great, too. I felt a little cramping with a half-mile to go, but I knew I had to keep going. It’s quite an honor being a champion in two divisions.”
For Mazuerk, it was simply a case of trying to stay with the leaders.
“I wanted to stick with the frontrunners and pace myself off them as much as possible,” he said. “Connor had a great race. He went out and took it.”
Polfus admitted he wasn’t sure if the Jets had won right after the meet.
“I thought Pickford or Cedarville had won,” he said. “Then, we saw Mr. Root with a big smile on his face. We knew then we had won it. This is a great day for our team.”
Munising, which captured the title the past two years, didn’t field a complete team this time.
Also, the Mustangs’ ace, sophomore Brett Hannah, slipped to 10th (19:02) after winning a year ago.
Marquette captured its first Division 1 title in three years with 42 points, followed by Escanaba 75 and Houghton 86.
Sophomore Lance Rambo led the Redmen by winning in 16:56, followed by senior teammate Cole Rieboldt (18:07) and Houghton junior David Jazsczak (17:22).
“The course was very slippery and the times were slow,” said Rambo. “The water at Mile 2 made it challenging. But the most challenging part was in the end (rolling hills leading into the finish). You just had to push through it.
“It feels real good to win as a team. Our team ran probably one of its best races of the year.”
Rieboldt set a course record (16:22) in his previous outing in the Great Northern Conference meet Oct. 10 on the Dale Fountain Memorial Cross Country Course at Banat (in western Menominee County).
“I went out too fast,” said Rieboldt, who also plays on the school’s soccer team. “This is a tough course, and I was feeling it on the hills. The water at Mile 2 was a hazard. The course was pretty chewed up by the time we got out there. The turns were slippery, too.”
Marquette coach Dale Phillips was impressed with the performance by the team’s leaders.
“It was a two-man race,” he said. “They really ran together. It was just a matter of who had more left in the end. In the majority of the meets we had this year, these guys were 1-2. This is a very, very young team. Five of the seven guys were newcomers to varsity.”
St. Ignace was crowned Division 2 champion for the first time with 57 points.
Hancock edged Ishpeming 67-69 for its first runner-up trophy since 1990.
Ironwood junior Jared Joki dominated the race in 17:09, followed by St. Ignace’s Brad Gustafson (18:18) and Andrew Sjogren (18:23).
“I had a pretty good idea I’d have a decent lead,” said Joki, who was crowned Indianhead Conference champion Thursday at neighboring Hurley, Wis., “although, I was mildly surprised by the margin of victory. I tried to follow a conservative approach. I ran a moderate race at the conference meet, so it didn’t affect me too much today. I really like this course and the atmosphere of being at the Finals.”
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PHOTO: Runners compete for position early in Saturday's Upper Peninsula Division 3 Final. (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard.)