GLADSTONE - For the past several years the Gladstone track teams have opened their season outdoors.
That's not going to happen this year, however, as the Braves are set to open in Tuesday's Marquette Invitational inside Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome at 1:30 p.m.
"This will be our first trip to the Dome in many years," said assistant coach/athletic director Matt Houle. "With the weather the way it is, we need to get into the competitive spirit. This has been a unique spring. We've had to be very creative with our workouts and able to keep kids interested.
"We have a great facility here. We can do just about everything but long jump. We've been focusing on form and technique. We're dotting our i's and crossing our t's."
The boys, who have 46 on their squad, are showing plenty of depth in the weight events.
Their leader is senior and three-time defending Upper Peninsula Division 1 shot put champ Jared Vuksan, also entered in long jump.
April 16 - at Marquette (Superior Dome); April 18 - at Kingsford; April 25 - Delta County Invitational at Escanaba; April 30 - Marquette, Negaunee and Iron Mountain.
May 2 - at Peshtigo, Wis.; May 4 - jayvees at Munising; May 7 - at Escanaba; May 10 - Gladstone Night meet; May 16 - D-1 regional at Escanaba; May 21 - jayvees at Menominee; May 23 - GNC meet.
June 1 - U.P. Finals at Kingsford.
Joining him are senior Steve Strom, juniors Cody Malinowski, Logan Krause, John Alexander and Chris Richer and sophomores Axel Madden and Luke Lueneburg.
"We have a lot of young kids as well," said Houle. "Potentially, this is the best throwing team we've had in a while. I think our strength will be in the field."
In the jumping events, the Braves return senior Justin Pederson, who was crowned U.P. long jump champion two years ago as a sophomore. Joining him are junior Stefin Robinson and sophomores Andrew Olesak and Hunter Curtis.
The pole vaulters are led by senior and two-time defending U.P. champ Zach Sturdy. He is joined by classmate Austin Cossette, juniors Jared Syverson and Jake Rosa and freshmen Ross Miron and Luke Sturdy.
"Coach Casey Young has done a great job preparing these kids, teaching them all the basic skills," said Houle.
Top sprinters are Pederson and juniors Riley Ballard, Max Mahoney and Blake Knauff.
"We also have a lot of good young kids in the sprints," said Houle. "That could be one of our strengths."
Curtis is the leading hurdler and Robinson, a sprinter last season, has moved to the hurdles this year. Other hurdlers include sophomore Dylan Bowie and freshman Troy Pardon.
"We're very youthful in the hurdles," said Houle. "Hunter has been teaching the other kids techiques. He has accepted his No. 1 role and worked real hard. Stefin has great speed. Now, it's just a matter of working on his form."
Senior Kyle Kleiman is the pacesetter in the distances and middle distances. Joining him are juniors Chris Sedenquist, Derek Mayo and Chad Parks, Olesak and sophomore Kurt Schaffer.
"Chris is in great shape and looks real strong," said Houle. "We lack depth in the distances, although the kids are preparing well for the season. I think we'll make up for it with strong performances. We've had some good workouts. We're pleased with the way they're preparing."
Head coach Gary Whitmer is working primarily with the distance runners. Besides Young in pole vault, other assistant coaches are Mick Maslowski, Ian Houle and Cody Tackman (hurdles), Bob Noreus and Houle (sprints) and Kent King and Kyle Closs (weight events).
"I think what helps us is the quality of coaches we have in our program," said Houle. "We pride ourselves in team. Our policy is 'if you work hard, you'll get rewarded for it.'"
The Braves, who come into the season as defending Great Northern Conference champs, were U.P. runners-up to three-time defending D-1 champion Marquette.
Marquette trailed by 27 points heading into the last four events of last year's U.P. Finals, but rallied to beat the Braves by 15.
"That left a bad taste in our mouth," said Houle. "We were undefeated until the U.P. Finals, but Marquette had the better team that day. We have a proud tradition here at Gladstone. We'll work hard, prepare hard and be ready for each meet. We can only control what we do. We can't control our opponents. We tell our kids not to look to their right or left, but focus on the finish."
The Braves also have a healthy respect for their opponents.
"Marquette's sprinters and distance people are as tough as anybody," said Houle. "Kingsford and Menominee have lot of speed. Escanaba will be much improved and Stephenson will have a good team. It's hard to get information on some of the other D-1 teams (Sault Ste. Marie, Houghton and Calumet) because of their distance from us. But I'm sure they'll have strong teams."