By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Saturday’s MHSAA Upper Peninsula Cross Country Finals at Beauchamp Grove in Gladstone, sponsored by Michigan National Guard, should provide the ideal scenarios to crown first-time champions.
While Chassell is the favorite in Division 3 after winning a year ago, neither Bessemer nor Wakefield-Marenisco has won an MHSAA boys cross country title – and together they are the favorite in Division 2. Negaunee is top-ranked in Division 1 and hasn’t won in more than 30 years. And only one of three individual champions is back to chase another title.
Here's a look at some of the teams and individuals expected to contend in all three races. Click for Saturday's race schedule and a list of all qualifiers.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2014 runner-up: Escanaba
2015 top three: 1. Negaunee, 2. Marquette, 3. Escanaba.
Negaunee’s last boys cross country championship came in 1983, but the Miners are favored to return to the top with all seven runners back from last season’s fifth-place team. Senior Grant Johnson and sophomore Colton Yesney were the top finishers in 2014, at 10th and 11th, respectively. Marquette returns only two runners from last season and has added three freshmen to four seniors – but those two returnees are senior Lance Rambo, last year’s runner-up, and senior Troy Sergey, who was 13th. Escanaba also returns only two runners from last season’s lineup, but junior Joey Wolfe was third individually and senior Jon Hook was 16th.
Individuals: The top three finishers from last year should pace the field again, with Rambo and Wolfe joined by reigning champion Nate Carey. The Kingsford senior finished third behind both at the Great Northern Conference final last week. Calumet junior Mitchell DeLong was 12th last season, and Kingsford senior Jorge Sanchez came in 14th.
Reigning champion: Ishpeming
2014 runner-up: Powers North Central
2015 top three: 1. Gogebic, 2. Ishpeming, 3. Powers North Central.
Neither Bessemer nor Wakefield-Marenisco had enough runners to compete in Division 3 as a team last season, but as a co-op in Division 2 they've combined to make favorite Gogebic. Senior Sam Dean was fifth last season in Division 3 and sophomore Tim Rowe finished 20th. Four of the top five Hematites finishers are back; senior Kazmine Langness was third last season, while senior Derek Mahoski was 11th, sophomore Kyle Pruett was 12th and junior Matthew Ferrett was 14th. Powers North Central finished only 14 points back of Ishpeming and returns six runners led by runner-up Bryce Holle, now a senior, seventh-place junior Seth Polfus, 16th-place sophomore Connor Robinson and 19th-place senior Jared Gerlach.
Individuals: Total, 10 of last season’s top 15 are back – although two-time champion Jared Joki of Ironwood graduated. Manistique sophomore Phillip Hagenson finished fourth in 2014, while Hancock junior Murphy Mallow is back after finishing seventh. Ironwood does return a pair of standouts – sophomore Andrew Niemi was ninth last season and senior Tim Lorenson was 11th.
Reigning champion: Chassell
2014 runner-up: Stephenson
2015 top three: 1. Chassell, 2. Munising, 3. Dollar Bay.
Chassell is a solid favorite returning all seven runners from last year’s team that won by six points. Four runners finished among the top 20 – now-freshman Abraham Gockenbach was fourth, junior Hunter Rautiola was ninth, senior Lars Daavettila was 14th and freshman Ben Tuomi was 16th. Munising was third last season and returns four of its top five including senior third-place finisher Brett Hannah. Senior Kyle LeClaire leads a Dollar Bay team returning five of seven from last year’s fourth-place team; LeClaire was sixth and sophomore Devin Schmitz finished 17th.
Individuals: Although the top two finishers from 2014 are not back, nine of the top 15 will run. In addition to those mentioned above, Stephenson sophomore Ethan Brown was seventh last season, Cedarville senior Patrick McMaken was 10th and junior Avry Freel was 15th, Big Bay de Noc sophomore Lucas Sundling was 13th and Eben Junction Superior Central junior Luke Leppanen was 14th.
PHOTO: Munising’s Brett Hannah ended third in the U.P. Division 3 race last season and returns as the highest finisher back from that field.
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)