By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
It’s not rare to see a repeat MHSAA Finals individual champion in cross country. Over the last decade alone, five Upper Peninsula runners have won multiple boys titles.
But how likely are three repeat champions in one season?
Stephenson senior Connor Cappaert can become the 14th to win three individual championships after earning his first two in different divisions over the last two seasons. Marquette junior Lance Rambo will have a chance to join that elite group next year if he can repeat this weekend in Division 1, and Ironwood senior Jared Joki can add a fourth top-three finish and second straight title in Division 2.
Here’s a look at some of the competition standing in the way, plus favorites for the team titles. Click for Saturday's race schedule and a list of all qualifiers.
Reigning champion: Marquette
2013 runner-up: Escanaba
2014 top three: 1. Marquette, 2. Escanaba, 3. Negaunee.
Marquette has two runners back from its top five that won last season’s title team. Rambo was the individual champion and came only six seconds from breaking the top 10 times in U.P. Division 1 history, and junior Troy Sergey added a 17th-place finish. But Escanaba is imposing with five of its top six back including fifth-place Joey Wolfe and seventh-place Eric Cousineau, a sophomore and senior, respectively.
Individuals: The field is loaded. In addition to Rambo, Wolfe and Cousineau, four more from last season’s top 10 are back: Houghton seniors David Jazsczak (third) and Jacob Colling (sixth), Kingsford junior Nate Carey (fourth) and Menominee senior Gunther Dedamos (ninth). Calumet sophomore Mitchell Delong was 15th last season and could move up. Negaunee’s Grant Johnson finished only 30th but won the Mid-Peninsula Conference title this fall.
Reigning champion: St. Ignace
2013 runner-up: Hancock
2014 top three: 1. Ishpeming Westwood, 2. Powers North Central, 3. Ironwood.
Westwood is seeking its first title since 2004 and hasn’t finished among the top two since 2006. The Patriots run six seniors and a junior, and senior Ryan Hunt placed ninth at last season’s Final. Powers North Central is the reigning Division 3 champion and looks like a strong candidate despite the move in division – sophomore Seth Polfus finished third individually and junior Bryce Holle was fourth last season in Division 3, and total the team returns four of last season’s top seven. Ironwood also has four of its seven back after finishing fourth a year ago, led by reigning individual champion Joki. A senior, he also finished third as a freshman and second as a sophomore.
Individuals: Norway senior Justin Anderson is looking to contend again after finishing fourth last fall, 13th in 2012 and 14th in 2011. Ishpeming could impact the team standings as well with senior Mark Holmgren and juniors Kazmine Langness and Derek Mahoski; they finished 14th, sixth and 16th, respectively, in 2013.
Reigning champion: Powers North Central
2013 runner-up: Pickford
2014 top three: 1. (tie) Stephenson, 1. (tie) Munising, 3. Cedarville.
This field is relatively open with North Central moving into Division 2. All seven runners from last season’s seventh-place finish are back for Stephenson, led by Cappaert. He’ll run for his third MHSAA title after winning Division 3 last season and Division 2 in 2012 (and finishing sixth in Division 2 in 2011). Munising, tied for the top spot in the final coaches poll, ran only four in 2013 and hence didn’t earn a team score, but has three of those back including junior and 10th-place finisher Brett Hannah.
Individuals: While Cappaert is a heavy favorite, he’ll have plenty of familiar competition. Reigning runner-up Zak Mazurek of Bessemer, also a senior, is back hoping to close the 18-second gap. In addition to Hannah, five more of last season’s top 15 are back – Wakefield-Marenisco junior Sam Dean (11th), Painesdale-Jeffers’ junior Kevin Semmens (ninth) and senior Anthony Harris (15th) and Marquette North Star Academy senior John-Henry Kibit (13th).
PHOTO: Kingsford’s Nate Carey (219) and Houghton’s Jacob Colling (215) are among top finishers from 2013 looking to challenge reigning champions Saturday. (Photo courtesy of RunMichigan.com/Paul Gerard.)
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.)