FLAT ROCK — Early in Saturday’s Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals, there was a feeling Negaunee junior Colton Yesney was about to break the 16-minute barrier for five kilometers at Beauchamp’s Grove.
“This is amazing,” said the reigning Division 1 champ. “It just feels unreal. I needed to do this for our team. They’ve been good to me, and I just wanted to pay them back.”
The Negaunee boys retained their crown with 38 points, followed by Houghton with 56, Marquette 92, Sault Ste. Marie 96 and Calumet with 160.
“Colton ran an unbelievable race,” said Negaunee coach Lisa Bigalk. “I’m just amazed. Our goal for him was to break 16. It’s incredible how he can push himself when the guys aren’t with him.
“Our whole team was bound and determined to defend its title. We have four seniors who wanted to go out on top. It was nice to see them perform at their absolute best for two years.”
Yesney was clocked at 5:14 at the mile and 10:04 at two miles.
“I wasn’t thinking about time at that point (two miles) of the race,” said Yesney. “I just played it by ear. Then, people were yelling out my time as I was coming into the finish, and I just gave it everything I had. I run for my teammates. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be the runner I am.”
Marquette junior Garrett Rudden, who overcame a recent injury (pulled muscle above his hip), was runner-up at 16:25.9, followed by Houghton’s Clayton Sayen (16:27.4), Negaunee’s Thomas Ziegler (16:30.4) and Houghton’s Seth Helman (16:42.7).
Ishpeming earned its third consecutive Division 2 title with 29 points, followed by Gogebic with 41, Newberry 106, Ironwood 110 and Hancock at 136.
“We knew our boys were going to win,” said Pruett. “We knew Gogebic had a good team, but we went head-to-head with Negaunee (two-time reigning Division 1 champs) all year, which prepared us well for this meet.”
Ishpeming senior Grady Kerst gained his first D-2 title at 16:24.3, followed by sophomore teammate Spencer Giroux (16:35.4), Newberry senior Kindred Griffis (16:37.3), Gogebic’s Isaiah Aili (16:52.9) and Ironwood sophomore Nick Niemi (16:53).
“This is about the same time I ran here two weeks ago,” said Kerst, who was crowned D-3 champion while a student at Munising two years ago. “This is a little disappointing in a way because I was hoping to shave some time off. Although, this victory is more satisfying than the one two years ago because there was more competition this time. The kid from Newberry really helped me. He was with me at two miles, then I started picking it up. He’s a good runner. This is a real fast course and the perfect temperature for me.”
Chassell achieved a three-peat in Division 3 with 54 points, followed by Brimley with 77, Stephenson 81, Cedarville 126 and Powers North Central with 149.
“I’m very pleased with everyone’s effort today,” said Chassell coach Marco Guidotti. “I think the boys benefitted from strong senior leadership. They brought everything they had.
“There was such strong competition here today. We feel fortunate to have an opportunity to come here and compete.”
Brimley freshman Austin Plotkin won in 17:02, followed by Dollar Bay sophomore Brendan LeClaire (17:24.9), Chassell’s Ben Tuomi (17:36.1), Cedarville’s Thomas Bohn (17:38.5) and Chassell’s Hunter Rautiola (17:43.4).
“I try to go for long strides to conserve energy,” said Plotkin, the overall Eastern U.P. Conference champion. “I also try to keep my breathing slow. I got him (LeClaire) on the hill about ¾ mile into the race and gained some separation.
“When I started running last spring, I worked a lot on my form. It feels great to win, although I just do it for fun.”
The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Negaunee’s Colton Yesney charges toward the finish in leading his team to the Division 1 championship. (Middle) Ishpeming’s Grady Kerst (185) leads the pack in the Division 2 race. (Below) Chassell poses with its Division 3 trophy after a third straight Finals win. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)