ESCANABA - For more than 20 years, the Escanaba Eskymos have constantly held their home cross country meets at Ludington Park
The Eskymos are also hosting Thursday's Great Northern Conference meet, only, they'll be doing it at a different site. The annual league meet shifts to the Escanaba Country Club.
"This is pretty cool," said second-year Esky coach Jake Berlinski. "This is kind of a dream come true. I've always wanted to be able to host a meet there. Jeff (assistant coach Wright) and I have been working on the course and trying to get everything mapped out. A change of pace was in store, and everybody's excited about running on a different course."
Gladstone coach Gary Whitmer had similar thoughts.
"I think it will be fun to check this course out," he said. "It's pretty flat out there. I think the kids will enjoy it."
This also won't be the first meet to be held at the Escanaba Country Club.
"I remember our teams running there many years ago," said longtime Marquette coach Dale Phillips.
The boys' varsity race starts at 4 p.m., followed by the girls' varsity and combined jayvee events. All races are 3.1 miles.
Other entrants are Kingsford, Stephenson and Menominee.
The Esky boys are looking to retain their title. They've won every meet they've entered this season except the Smiley Invitational at Wausau, Wis.
"One of our big goals is to defend our conference title," said Berlinski. "This is one of the meets you shoot for. Last year's victory was a little unexpected. Right now, the boys are on kind of a roll and looking to continue that momentum."
The Eskymos are led by senior Andrew Stenberg and sophomore Eric Cousineau, who placed second and fourth in last week's Gladstone Invitational at Flat Rock.
"Eric really wants to do well," said Berlinski. "The closer he gets to Andrew, the better off we are."
Kingsford senior Dan Kulas won at Flat Rock and Marquette freshman Lance Rambo was third.
Also joining in the title hunt is Stephenson sophomore Connor Cappaert, who won his last two races.
"It has been a pretty good rivalry with Andrew, Dan and Connor," said Berlinski. "There are no more tricks or guessing games. May the best man win at this point. If Andrew could snag a conference title, it would be kind of cool."
Whitmer has been impressed with the Eskymos all season.
"When you have that many guys running in the 17s and low 18s, you're going to be tough to beat," he said. "Although, Marquette is improving. This is a very good conference. There's always good competition in the GNC."
The Marquette girls, led by freshman Lindsey Rudden and sophomore and defending champion Calla Martysz, is shooting for their 13th consecutive championship.
Rudden won at Flat Rock to remain undefeated this season. Menominee junior Kameron Burmeister placed second and Martysz was third.
"We're trying to close the gap on the teams in front of us," said Berlinski. "Marquette is probably the team to beat. They're a loaded team. They're very solid from top to bottom, but we're hoping to chase them down."
Sophomore Aimiee Giese is Esky's pacesetter and junior Aubree Peterson is expected to run Thursday after sitting out the Gladstone Invitational due to a hip problem.
"Having Aubree healthy is going to help," said Berlinski. "That's priority No. 1. Everybody has to be responsible for beating the girls they should. We can't give places away.
"Joanie Stacey is probably running as well as I've seen her run. She ran so strong last week and I think she has more left. Being a senior, Joanie seems to be running with a sense of urgency. This is her last shot at trying to take a conference title."
Gladstone's leaders are junior Sadie Strasser and sophomores Josie Gardner and Iris Robare.
"Our girls held their own in our invitational," said Whitmer. "Iris ran her best race all year. Sam Sailer had been battling a chest cold, but is starting to feel a little better. We're absolutely pleased with the progress our girls are making."