By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A shuffling among the Upper Peninsula’s smallest-school powers has set up an intriguing matchup at Saturday’s MHSAA Cross Country Finals at Gentz Homestead Golf Course in Munising.
The move of reigning Division 2 champion Stephenson into Division 3 not only pits the Eagles against still-loaded reigning D3 champion Munising, but means the reigning individual champions from those two divisions also will chase each other.
Here's a look at those matchups plus more stories behind all of the favorites. Click for Saturday's race schedule and links to all qualifiers.
Reigning champion: Sault Ste. Marie
2012 runner-up: Escanaba
2013 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Houghton, 3. Escanaba.
Marquette has been locked out of the top two spots the last two seasons after winning Division 1 from 2008-10. But the top-ranked team is anchored by one of the top returning placers from 2012 in sophomore Lance Rambo, who will look to build on his fourth-place finish. He was 19 seconds behind third-place finisher and Houghton junior Jacob Colling, who was only nine off the lead and might be the favorite this time. Escanaba returns three from last season’s top 21 and should make a push.
Individuals: Four more top-10 placers also are back, led by Menominee senior Davey Luplow, who finished fifth. Calumet senior Devin Berg finished seventh, Kingsford sophomore Nate Carey was eighth in his first season, and Negaunee senior Keenan Gantz will look to finish his career by building on last season’s ninth-place finish.
Reigning champion: Stephenson
2012 runner-up: Norway
2013 top three: 1. Hancock, 2. Ishpeming, 3. Ironwood.
Stephenson has won the last three Division 2 Finals, but is running in Division 3. The door appears most open for third-ranked Ironwood, which returns junior Jared Joki, the reigning individual runner-up, and last season’s 10th-place finisher Coli Clausen, also a junior. The only other top-10 placer returning to this race is Hancock senior Jacob Jarvis, ninth in 2012, and he’s joined by 11th-place Hayden Heikkinen, also a senior. Ishpeming finished only seventh last season, but could make a jump led by sophomore Derek Mahoski, who finished 36th as a freshman.
Individuals: Two others from last season’s top 15 should make a big move up the chart. Manistique junior Ryan Ramey is coming off an 11th-place finish and was a mere 11 seconds from ninth. Norway junior Justin Anderson was just behind Ramey in 12th.
Reigning champion: Munising
2012 runner-up: Cedarville
2013 top three: 1. Powers North Central, 2. Eben Junction Superior Central, 3. Stephenson.
Munising curiously is ranked only fifth despite winning the last two Division 3 titles and returning last season’s individual champion in sophomore Brett Hannah (17:55.0), third-place finisher in junior Izaak Mahoski and 10th-place finisher senior Sam MacArthur. Stephenson certainly is intriguing as well with reigning Division 2 individual champion Connor Cappaert (17:25.7), just a junior, looking to add another few titles. Dollar Bay does bring back a top-20 finisher in senior Cameron Ringler plus 21st-place senior Tom Autio. Superior Central sophomore Jesse Elsenbroek finished 24th last season as an individual qualifier and leads the second-ranked team.
Individuals: Five more of last season’s top 10 also will run this weekend. Fourth-ranked Pickford features seniors Jacob Anderzjak and Alec Firak, who finished seventh and ninth, respectively. Bessemer junior Zack Mazurek should push the favorites after finishing fourth as a sophomore, while Carney-Nadeau senior Dionte Blahnik (sixth) and Cedarville junior Teddy Bowlby (eighth) also are good bets to be in the hunt.
PHOTO: Houghton’s Jacob Colling (57) is the top returning placer from last season’s UP Division 1 Final, where he placed third in 16:59.3. (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard.)