FLAT ROCK — It was a history-making day for the Sault Ste. Marie High School girls Saturday as they were crowned Upper Peninsula Division 1 cross country champions for the first time with 34 points.
“This is huge for our program,” said Sault coach Jim Martin. “We’re still pretty young. Both of our teams work so hard, and they enjoy each other’s company.
“We have a lot of respect for Marquette’s program. Their coaches and kids have a lot of class. Our depth made the difference today. We have 11 girls running under 22 minutes right now.”
Marquette senior Becci McNamee won the 3.1-mile race at Beauchamp’s Grove in 19 minutes, 6.4 seconds on a sunny and seasonably cool day. She was followed by Sault senior Courtney Arbic (19:33.9), Negaunee freshman Emily Paupore (19:45.4) and junior Clara Johnson (19:46.2) and Kingsford sophomore Peyton Johnson (19:51.2).
“I don’t think anybody outside of Marquette expected me to win this race, especially by that much,” McNamee said shortly after running a personal-best time. “My tonsils got infected a couple weeks ago, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this race. I was about 30 seconds better here than I was last year. The best I had done this year was a 19:57 (in the Marquette County meet Sept. 8). I tried to go with the same strategy as I did in the county meet, and it worked.”
The team title was a dream come true for the Blue Devils, especially for seniors Courtney Arbic and Josie Roos, who was eighth in a personal-best 20:04.3.
“This feels awesome,” said Arbic. “We’ve been training real hard all year. This is the best team we’ve had. We’re all good friends, and we definitely have a strong core. We tried to stay together as a pack. I started a little slower than some of the runners and tried to work my way up, then tried to pick it up after Mile 2. The last mile is usually my fastest.”
Roos, who’s leaning toward attending Northern Michigan University next year, said the Blue Devils have been working toward this for five years.
“We’ve been talking about this since we were in seventh grade,” she added. “I’m so glad we finally won it. We’ve been waiting for this so long. I was excited for this meet when I woke up this morning. I was real happy to get a PB.”
The Blue Devils had to overcome some adversity during the meet as their lead runner McKenzie Kalchik developed breathing issues and was forced to drop out.
“When the girls saw McKenzie go down, they stepped up their game,” said Martin. “I couldn’t be happier and more proud of them, especially our seniors.”
Ishpeming was crowned champion for the third straight time with 62 points, followed by Munising with 70, Hancock 101, St. Ignace 124 and Newberry with 134.
Ishpeming also had adversity to overcome as some of its runners were feeling well under the weather last week.
“We had four girls on antibiotics,” said Ishpeming coach P.J. Pruett. “Some of them had bronchitis and pneumonia. Fortunately, they felt better today.”
Munising junior Alyssa Webber earned top individual honors in 19:59, followed by teammate Maddy Peramaki (20:32.8); Gogebic (Bessemer) senior Lily Wieringa (20:44.8), Iron River West Iron County senior Emmy Kinner (21:11.1) and Ironwood sophomore Emily Carey (21:15.7).
“It was a fast race,” said Webber. “The girl from Gogebic was ahead of us for 1½ miles. We knew she was good competition. Maddy ran a PR (personal record) today. I’m excited for her. Coach (Fran DesArmo) is happy, and we’re all happy.
“It was a little cold at first, but I warmed up during the race. This is definitely better weather than we had for last year’s Finals (wind and rain).”
The Cedarville girls won for the first time in five years with 34 points, followed by two-time reigning champion Chassell with 46, Dollar Bay 81, Rock Mid Peninsula 88 and Stephenson 90.
“We grew all year long and got better,” said Cedarville coach Ryan Wilson. “We had good senior leadership this year. The kids are going to go home and talk about being U.P. champions. They ran some of their fastest times today.”
Chassell’s Lela Rautiola won at 20:12.2, followed by Cedarville senior Emma Bohn (20:27.2), Painesdale-Jeffers’ Gracia Asiala (20:46.7), Eben Junction Superior Central freshman Danika Walters (21:09) and Dollar Bay’s Cami Daavettila (21:14.8).
The MHSAA Cross Country Finals are sponsored by the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: (Top) Courtney Arbic (155) paces Sault Ste. Marie’s runners on the way to the Division 1 title. (Middle) Ishpeming’s Kayla Kaukola finished ninth in leading the Hematites to the Division 2 championship. (Below) Cedarville’s Emma Bohn (343) stays just ahead of Chassell’s Lela Rautiola in Division 3; Rautiola won the race but Cedarville won the team title. (Photos by Jamie Tasson and Cara Kamps.)