ESCANABA - After being road warriors all season, the Escanaba cross country teams will finally get a chance to run on their home course Saturday as they host the Golden K Kiwanis Invitational in Ludington Park.
The varsity boys are scheduled to run at 10 a.m., followed by the varsity girls', combined jayvee and junior high events. High school races are 3.1 miles. Junior high harriers go two miles.
Besides Esky, some of the other schools entered are Gladstone, Big Bay de Noc, Manistique, Rudyard, Munising, Gwinn, Negaunee, Ishpeming, Westwood, Kingsford, Norway, Carney-Nadeau and Stephenson.
The Esky boys, led by senior Andrew Stenberg, are shooting for their third straight title.
"For the guys, it's a matter of accepting the challenges," said Esky coach Jake Berlinski. "Nobody is going to give us anything. Everyday, we show up as if it's the first day of practice. Trying to win cross country meets is so hard because they're so competitive. It just a matter of staying focused. You can't lose sight of your goal. Between Andrew and Brad Derouin, they kind of keep everybody in line, vocally and through action."
Kingsford senior Dan Kulas is the defending individual champ. Stenberg was runner-up a year ago. Joining them in the title hunt is Stephenson's Connor Cappaert.
"They kind of form a pack at the front, and I really enjoy watching these kids run against each other," said Berlinski. "It's a friendly rivalry, yet it's all business when the race starts. Any one of these three could win it. I would put Andrew up against any runner in the U.P. I have that much confidence in him."
Stenberg is fresh from a runner-up finish in Tuesday's Munising Invitational, where Kulas placed third and Cappaert was fifth.
Also among the area runners to watch is Manistique senior Tyler Pomeroy.
The Rudyard girls were crowned champions a year ago, followed by Esky and Gladstone.
Esky sophomore placed sixth and junior Aubree Peterson was 15th at Munising.
"The girls' races always seem to be real tight at the top," said Berlinski. "It's so good for Aimee and Aubree to see top-notch competition, push themselve and try to become contenders. We feel our girls are flying under the radar yet. We still haven't had that one big meet where we put everything together. We'd love to come out of there with two trophies, but everything has to go right. Victories are earned, not given. We keep stressing to the kids every point counts.
Rudyard senior Leah Jarvie was last year's winner, followed by Peterson, Gladstone's Sadie Strasser and Manistique's Darby Demers.
"Aubree is battling a hip problem, but seems to have coming through the Munising meet okay," said Berlinski. "We've had a little bit of sickness and colds going around. We're trying to fight through those and not lose any training time. We're about as healthy as we can be right now."
Manistique's Holly Blowers has shown she's capable of contending. The freshman harrier, however, has recently been hindered by an ankle injury.