By John Vrancic
Special for Second Half
KINGSFORD — Ontonagon High School senior Paige Blake had just enough leg strength to finish the 400-meter dash at Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Division 3 Girls Track & Field Finals.
That was also just enough for Blake to retain her title as she fell across the finish line and edged Munising sophomore Kelsea Ackerman by one hundredth of a second.
Blake was clocked in 1 minute, 3.26 seconds. Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Laura Lyons placed third (1:03.62).
“I ran until I couldn’t run anymore,” said Blake. “My legs just couldn’t go anymore. I was going after the school record, but came up short. I’m glad I won, but I don’t really want to run a full 400 again.”
Blake’s effort was also an example of what the Gladiators needed to secure their first U.P. team title since 1974, when they were competing in Class C.
They scored 72 points, followed by defending champion Newberry with 65 and Munising 62.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our girls,” said Ontonagon coach Brian Amos. “Paige and Lori (Wardynski) have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for the past three years. We finally got some field events and relays and everything came together for us this year. I’m happy for Paige and Lori that they got to experience this. I’m also happy the other girls got to experience this. This is something they can build on.”
Wardynski set a U.P. meet record in the 300 hurdles in 47.27 seconds, topping the previous best (48.07) by Brooke Granquist of Powers North Central in 2009.
Wardynski also won the 300 hurdles as a sophomore two years ago and added titles in the 100-meter dash title (13.4) and high jump (4-10) this time.
“I got off to a pretty strong start in the 300s,” said Wardynski. “I knew I had a good chance to place, but I was surprised to get the U.P. record. I just told myself to go as hard as I could.”
Blake was runner-up in the 200 (28.09) and third in long jump (14-9).
Newberry senior Natalie Beaulieu repeated as champion in the 1,600 (5:24.54) and set the U.P. meet record in the 3,200, erasing the old mark (11:49.16) by Cedarville’s Emma Bohn a year ago. Beaulieu also took fourth in the 800 (2:30.22) and helped the Indians place fourth in the 3,200 relay (10:50.64).
“I didn’t want to start too fast in the 3,200,” said Beaulieu. “I also didn’t want to start too slow. I was able to find a happy medium and my rhythm. I knew I wanted to do it before I went to college (Central Michigan University). This means a lot to me. It’s kind of a relief to get this done, in a way.”
Bohn was runner-up in the 1,600 (5:33.52) and 3,200 (12:03.82) this time.
Junior teammate Taylor Bryant and Brimley senior Kerri Chartrand tied for first in the 100 hurdles (16.73). Bryant was runner-up in the 300s (48.64) and fourth in the 100 dash (13.58).
“I was a little nervous at first,” said Bryant. “The track was slippery in warm-ups. I tried to adjust my steps and do the best I could. My start in the 100-meter dash was better than I thought it would be. I knew the fast heat was behind us and just went for time.”
The Indians added a first in the 400 relay (54.4) and fourth in the 3,200 relay (10:50.04).
“Karley (Honeyssette) got us off to a good start, and our handoffs went real good,” said junior Megan Grigg. “That very important in the 400 relay. If your handoffs aren’t on, you’re not going to place.
Munising won the 1,600 (4:24.02) and 3,200 relays (10:22.9).
Lake Linden Hubbell’s Stephanie Harry took pole vault (7-6) and Lyons captured long jump (15-3).
Pickford senior Heidi Hagen took first in the 800 (2:28.05) and helped the winning 800 relay (1:55.37).
“We were ranked first by a half-second, which is a good motivator,” said Hagen. “This is so exciting. Our handoffs were real smooth. The track was slippery (due to the rain), although it’s not that bad with spikes.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Ontonagon's Paige Blake rounds a curve during her winning 400 run Saturday. (Middle) Newberry's Natalie Beaulieu repeated and set a meet record in the 3,200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)