Rapid River Clinches on Final Relay

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

June 4, 2017

KINGSFORD — There appeared to be a sense of relief within the ranks of the Rapid River boys track team Saturday as it retained its Upper Peninsula Division 3 crown.

Rapid River edged Bessemer 108-104 for the title, but the teams were tied at 96 prior to the 1,600-meter relay.

Rapid River then secured the title by setting a meet record in the final race at 3 minutes, 34.52 seconds, topping the previous best (3:36.32) by Crystal Falls Forest Park run five years ago. Bessemer was runner-up (3:39.40).

“We really needed those points,” said senior Austin Wicklund, who anchored the Rockets’  1,600 relay. “It feels great to win it in the last race. Our hard work paid off. Our first three legs were unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for a better lead.

“Going out this way is great. Thanks to Coach O (Steve Ostrenga) and his assistants. They got us well prepared.”

The Speedboys pulled even in the 3,200 as Adam Mazurek placed third (10:54.31) and Isaiah Aili took fourth (10:58.94).

Senior Jared Anderson, however, kept the Rockets from falling behind by taking fifth (11:02.33).

Bessemer started the day by setting a meet record  in the 3,200 relay (8:29.88), beating the old mark (8:30.1) by Powers North Central in 2004.

“I really had to push myself,” said junior Brayden Tomes, who anchored the winning relay. “The clock read 8:25, and I knew I had to gut it out. It was really close.”

Rapid River junior Lucas Sundling captured the 400 (52.41), helped the winning 800 relay (1:35.41) and was runner-up in the 100 (11.96) and 200 (23.76).

“I wasn’t feeling the best early in the meet,” said Sundling. “I didn’t have a good start in the 100, but managed to catch up. This is my first year in the 100, so I guess I can’t be too disappointed.

“Our first handoff in the 800 relay was bad. Our coach said we could have been under 1:35 without that.”

Junior Luke Gustafson provided the Rockets with a first in pole vault at 12 feet, took the second leg of the 1,600 relay and helped them place third in the 3,200 relay (8:55.61).

“I’m happy to get first,” said Gustafson. “I wanted the U.P. record, but it didn’t work out. I was up and over the bar twice (at 13 feet), but hit it with my arm. I’m pleased with my day overall.”

Bessemer’s main strength was in the distances where Isaiah Aili took first in the 800 (2:07.35) and 1,600 (4:39.82). Cade Mazzon was runner-up in the 800 (2:09.06), and Uriah Aili took fourth in the 800 (2:10.59) and 1,600 (4:52.56).

Tomes won the 200 (23.34) and placed third in the 300 hurdles (43.25).

“I had a good start in the 200,” said Tomes. “I wanted to take advantage of the first 50 meters where the wind was on our back. I knew I had to give our team some points. Having the competition helped me get a better time.”

Third-place Pickford’s lone win took place in high jump on Nick Edington’s leap of 6-2.

North Dickinson senior Garrett O’Neil was a triple winner, taking the 110 hurdles (16.34) and 300 (41.97), and long jump (18-10).

“My starts were good, but the races didn’t go as good as I wanted,”  said O’Neil. “I hit a couple hurdles in the 110s and landed on the wrong foot on two of the first three in the 300s. I was going for the school record, but landing on the wrong foot made that difficult. I just had to push through and get to the finish line.”

Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Brendan Middleton took the 100 (11.83) and anchored the winning 400 relay (46.76).

Ewen-Trout Creek junior Jake Witt won shot put (45-5½) and was runner-up in discus (129-3), both with personal bests.

“I’ve been working on the glide the past week,” said Witt. “I brushed up on my technique, and with a little help from our assistant coaches I learned how to use my lower body. I threw eight feet further than in the Regional (at Wakefield), which definitely gave me some confidence.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Rapid River’s Luke Gustafson runs his leg of the 1,600 relay Saturday. (Middle) Bessemer’s Brayden Tomes stretches for the win in the 200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)