FLAT ROCK - One more tune-up remains for Escanaba and Gladstone before they head into the final two weeks of their cross country seasons.
Both teams will compete in Thursday's Gladstone Invitational, which begins with the combined jayvee race at 4 p.m. at Beauchamp's Grove in Flat Rock.
The opening race will be followed by the boys' and girls' varsity and combined middle school events. High school races are 3.1 miles. Middle school harriers go two miles.
Still ahead for Esky and Gladstone are the Great Northern Conference meet Oct. 11 at the Escanaba Country Club and Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Munising Oct. 20.
Other teams entered in Thursday's meet are Big Bay de Noc, Manistique, Marquette, Marquette North Star Academy, Gwinn, Ishpeming, Kingsford, North Central, Carney-Nadeau and Menominee.
The Esky boys, led by senior Andrew Stenberg, and Marquette girls were crowned champions a year ago.
Joining Stenberg in the title hunt is Kingsford senior Dan Kulas, winner of Saturday's Golden K Kiwanis Invitational at Esky. Stenberg was runner-up and teammate Eric Counsineau placed third in that race.
Others to watch are Manistique's Tyler Pomeroy, Menominee's Davey Luplow and Negaunee's Keenan Gantz.
Kyle Kleiman was Gladstone's leader at Esky, placing 29th
"The kids ran real well at Munising (on Sept. 25) and still ran halfway decent at Escanaba," said Braves' coach Gary Whitmer. "We're definitely heading in the right direction. We're running on tired legs right now, but the schedule will begin to lighten up. We have a lot of younger kids who aren't used to racing this much. We're healthy coming into Thursday, healthier than we've been all year."
The Marquette girls are led by freshman Lindsey Rudden, who won in 18 minutes, 20 seconds at Munising.
Esky sophomore Aimee Giese won the Elks Invite at 20:25, followed by junior teammate Aubree Peterson and Manistique freshman Holly Blowers. Sadie Strasser was Gladstone's pacesetter in eighth and Josie Gardner was 11th.
The Esky girls were crowned champions of their own invite and Gladstone was runner-up.
"Taking second at Escanaba was nice for the girls," said Whitmer. "I think that was little bit of a confidence boost. Sadie and Josie had nice races over there. Iris (Robare) was battling a chest cold and missed two meets, but we expect her to keep improving. We're hoping she'll peak at the right time."
Others to watch are Menominee's Kameron Burmeister and Marquette's Calla Martysz.