By John Vrancic
GLADSTONE - Their numbers may not be as plentiful as in the past, but the Gladstone cross country teams are off and running with a meet already under their belts.
The Braves, who opened by finishing near the middle of the standings in Tuesday's Munising Invitational, have a turnout of 10 boys and eight girls.
"This is the lowest turnout we've had in quite a few years, but the kids we have are excited about the season," said coach Gary Whitmer. "Most of them improved their times from a year ago. We have something to build on."
Gladstone resumes in Thursday's Marquette Invitational.
The remaining schedule:
Aug. 30 - at Marquette.
Sept. 5 - at North Central; Sept. 8 - at Shawano, Wis.; Sept. 18 - at Menominee; Sept. 22 - at Stephenson; Sept. 25 - at Munising; Sept. 29 - at Escanaba.
Oct. 4 - Gladstone Invitational (at Flat Rock); Oct. 11 - GNC meet at Escanaba; Oct. 20 - U.P. Finals at Munising.
Gone from the boys' team through graduation are Kyle Arvan and Ben Fournier.
Sophomore Andrew Olesak was Gladstone's pacesetter at Munising. He placed 21st in the 3.1-mile race in 20 minutes, 35 seconds. Junior newcomer Chris Sedenquist took 25th.
Junior Chad Parks improved dramatically from a year ago on the Valley Spur Cross Country Ski Trails. He was clocked at 22:19 this time compared to 31:05 last season.
Also among Gladstone's leaders were junior newcomer Derek Mayo and senior Kyle Kleiman.
"Kyle played a lot of basketball this summer," said Whitmer. "I think he and Derek will be right in the hunt with our leaders. Chad trained a lot during the summer. I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks 20 minutes this year. I'm excited for him. I think our top five will improve quite a bit this season."
Other hopefuls include seniors Josh Kadish and Travis Gagnon, junior James Capodilupo and sophomores Kurt Schaefer and Hunter Curtis.
Sophomores Josie Gardner and Iris Robare were the pacesetters for the Gladstone girls Tuesday. They were followed by freshman Sam Sailer.
"Iris had some cramping during the race," said Whitmer. "Otherwise, she and Josie have a lot of fun out there. We usually get about a dozen girls. We have a couple more who are thinking about coming out. Hopefully, they'll join the team once school starts. The girls we have are a nice group and they're hard workers. All eight of our girls will be battling for positions through the season.
"It seems like the numbers are down across the board, except for Escanaba and possibly Marquette. This is a demanding sport. But once kids come out, they tend to get hooked on it."
The Braves ran Tuesday without juniors Sadie Strasser and Abby Flaminio, who were out of town.
Additional hopefuls are juniors Mikayla Depuydt and Christine Sharon and freshman Anna Schier.
"One of the advantages of having fewer kids is it makes for easier coaching," said Whitmer. "This gives us more time to work with each kid, although we're always looking for more. If nothing else, we want to get kids in shape and interested in returning next year."
Whitmer came away from the opener impressed with the Escanaba and Menominee teams.
"It looks like the Escanaba boys are the team to beat in the GNC (Great Northern Conference)," he said. "Although, Menominee also looked strong.
"I'm very impressed with the way the Menominee girls ran, although you can never count Marquette out. Escanaba looks strong, too."