ESCANABA - It appears area girls' cross country teams are facing long odds in Saturday's Upper Peninsula Finals at Munising.
Based on seasonlong performance, Escanaba represents the area's best hope. Although, winning at the Pictured Rocks Golf & Country Club on Saturday will be far from easy.
Marquette, led by freshman Lindsey Rudden and sophomore Calla Martysz, is defending champion.
Calumet, however, is favored to regain the title it held the previous two years.
The Copper Kings dominated last week's West-Pac Conference meet at Atlantic Mine last week by taking five of the top six places. They also beat Marquette by 15 points in last month's Munising Invitational.
Calumet's leader is three-time defending U.P. and four-time West-Pac champion Tara Kiilunen.
"Calumet is good from top to bottom," said Esky coach Jake Berlinski. "We saw them twice this year, and they're loaded. I don't think anybody would disagree that they and Marquette are favored for champions and runners-up. The thing those two teams have is they're going to have a one or a two on their card."
Rudden has beaten Kiilunen twice this year, including last month's dominating performance at Munising where she covered the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes, 20 seconds. Kiilunen took third in that race at 19:03.
She also captured the Great Northern Conference title last week at the Escanaba Country Club.
"It will be an interesting race between Calumet and Marquette, also between Rudden and Kiilunen," said Gladstone coach Gary Whitmer. "Lindsey's a very good runner, but Kiilunen is three-time defending champion for a reason. It will be a good race."
Berlinski had similar thoughts on Rudden and Kiilunen.
"It's going to be a battle between them," he said. "That will be fun to watch."
Esky's leaders are sophomore Aimee Giese, junior Aubree Peterson, freshman Callie Heller, who's coming off a knee injury, and senior Joanie Stacey.
"Aimee has been a pleasant surprise, and you can kind of just count on Aubree," said Berlinski. "You know what you're going to get with Aubree. She has been very consistent. They've led the charge and Joanie has been right in that mix as the season winds down.
"I think Joanie will be able to look back at a pretty successful career. I can see her running the 10,000 meters (6.2 miles) in college. She's so strong mentally and physically, and it really showed in her last few races."
Gladstone's pacesetters are junior Sadie Strasser and sophomore Josie Gardner.
"Our girls have held their own and they're improving," said Gladstone coach Gary Whitmer. "I would like to see them break into the top five, although that will be tough to do. Our conference is pretty stacked."
Rudyard and St. Ignace's Sarah Cullip have captured D-2 titles the past two years. That will change Saturday, however, as both schools have dropped to D-3.
Ironwood was the leader among the D-2 schools at Munising on Sept. 25. The Red Devils, however, were just eight points ahead of Newberry.
Manistique's leader is freshman Holly Blowers, who placed third in last week's Mid-Peninsula Conference meet behind Negaunee's Wyleen Kniola and Clara Churchill.
Cedarville is defending D-3 champion, but was sixth among eight teams in the final leg ot the Straits Area Conference Jamboree.
Munising is fresh from winning the Central U.P./Skyline Conference and Norway Invitational titles, and St. Ignace placed third and Rudyard was fourth in last week's final SAC race.
Carney-Nadeau's Casey Charlier was the top area finisher in the CUP/Skyline meet, placing fifth behind four Munising runners.