ESCANABA - This track season, by all accounts, has been a success for the Superior Central girls.
Among the Cougars' accomplishments are their first Division 3 regional and Central U.P. Conference championships and the Rapid River Invitational title.
The Cougars, however, face their biggest challenge in Saturday's Upper Peninsula Finals, where defending champion Brimley is shooting for its fourth title in five years.
"Brimley is obviously the favorite," said Cougars' coach Chris Messano. "They have so much depth. We'll need help from other teams."
Superior Central senior Lauren Spranger is going after her fourth consecutive 400-meter title at Kingsford, where she set the U.P. record at 58.7 seconds a year ago. She also copped the 800 title as a sophomore in 2010 and hopes to add a 200 championship.
"Lauren looks stronger this year," said Messano. "I think she's excited for Saturday. I think it means a lot to her to run for her team the last time."
Also among their leaders are sophomore sprinter Teslyn Tyner and senior relay specialist Jamie Seppanen.
Providing competition for Tyner in the 100 are Chassell's Jamie Dompier, Brimley's Alexis Mason and Ontonagon's Olivia Suomis.
"I'm anticipating a photo finish in the 100," said Messano. "I would like to see Teslyn get pushed a little more. I think she will benefit from running against this kind of competition.
Jamie is also very excited and cares about the team's success."
Bark River-Harris has been a constant challenger, finishing within 10 points of the Cougars in the Munising regional, CUP and Rapid River Invite.
"Superior Central has strong runners, but I think Brimley is definitely the team to beat," said BR-H assistant coach Katina Demers. "Brimley looks solid across the board. Forest Park is tough, too."
The Broncos were runners-up to Forest Park (113-107) in last week's Skyline Conference meet.
"We had two girls pull out due to shin splints and sore muscles," said Demers. "Aleesa (Madalinski) was able to run, but unable to jump. I thought Carney's 3200 relay was impressive in the Skyline meet. I think they surprised a few people (by winning)."
For Demers, this marks her first trip to the U.P. Finals since 1993 when she was a senior at Gladstone.
"I'm like a little kid at Christmas time," she said. "I'm really excited for the kids, getting all those butterflies back in my stomach again. We told the girls to run their hearts out because anything can happen."
Big Bay de Noc senior Brittany Richard, top seed in the 1600 and 3200, hopes to secure her first U.P. titles.
Also winning regionals were Forest Park (at Lake Linden) and Bessemer (at Ontonagon).
Cedarville's boys were U.P. champs a year ago. But the Trojans were third in the regional, well behind host Pickford.
The BR-H boys earned their first regional title at Munising two weeks ago, edging Rapid River 55-51.5.
Forest Park, however, won last week's Skyline meet in which 8.5 points separated first from fourth. The Trojans were followed by North Dickinson, Rapid River and BR-H.
"I'm starting to realize Forest Park has a nice team," said BR-H coach Al Bellefeuille. "They have a lot of talent, although I think Pickford is still the team to beat. Every relay Pickford has is going to place in the top three. They're the top seed in the sprint relays."
BR-H senior Trevor Cochrane won the 110-meter relays and placed second in the 300s in D-2 last year, with Maplewood Baptist's Lamont Grigsby a potential challenger in D-3 on Saturday.
"Grigsby will give Trevor a battle," said Bellefeuille. "Running in D-2 last year could help us on Saturday. We surprised some people by finishing in the middle of the pack last year, but everybody knows us this year. There's so many good teams. It's going to be fun."
BR-H senior Cody Londo, who dislocated his shoulder in pole vault at North Dickinson last week, hopes to be ready for Saturday.
"The doctors got his shoulder back in place and the swelling has gone down nicely," said Bellefeuille.
Looking to defend titles are Rapid River's Brett Bryant (400) and Mid Peninsula's Brett Branstrom (discus). Branstrom is the school-recordholder in shot put (47-0.5) and discus (149-9).
Shooting for U.P. pole vault titles are Rapid River's Robert Metter and BR-H's Dustin DeGrave, who hold their school records at 13-1 and 13-0, respectively.
Other regional champs were Forest Park (at Lake Linden) and Bessemer (at Ontonagon).