ESCANABA - With serveral runners battling illness this week, the Escanaba Eskymos hope to be a little healthier for Saturday's Golden K Kiwanis Invitational cross country meet.
Other schools expected to be on hand include Gladstone, Big Bay de Noc, Manistique, Munising, Superior Central, Gwinn, Marquette North Star Academy, Negaunee, Ishpeming, Westwood, Ironwood, Bessemer, Kingsford, Norway, North Central, Carney-Nadeau, Stephenson and Menominee.
The meet begins at 10 a.m. with the combined jayvee race in Ludington Park. As many as four varsity and a combined junior high race will follow. HIgh school races are 3.1 miles. Junior high runners go approximately two miles.
"Teams will be divided into large and small school divisions," said Esky coach Jake Berlinski. "We may or may not run all the schools together (boys and girls separate) depending on the number of entries."
The Esky boys are shooting for their fourth straight title, while the girls hope to retain their crown.
"Every team likes to put on a good show on its home course," said Berlinski. "I think the kids are excited about running at home, and they want to defend their titles."
Esky is fresh from placing second behind Marquette in both ends of Tuesday's Munising Invitational.
At Munising, the Esky girls ran without senior Aubree Peterson and junior Isabelle Wellman, who were battling colds and sinus problems.
Junior Aimee Giese, also feeling under the weather, led the Eskymos in 10th by covering the 3.1-mile course in 20 minutes, 48 seconds at the Pictured Rocks Golf & Country Club.
"Aimee tried to tough it out, but she wasn't at full strength either," said Berlinski. "In that field, Aimee usually places fifth or sixth. She ran well, all things considered."
Junior Eric Cousineau, who said he felt sick at Munising, led the Esky boys in third at 17:19. Classmate Gabe Ostrenga took ninth (18:00).
"Eric was in the same boat as the girls," said Berlinski. "He definitely wasn't at full strength. We gave all the kids the day off on Wednesday. We told them to go home and sleep and do their homework."
Among Cousineau's main challengers Saturday are Kingsford sophomore Nate Carey, who placed fourth at Munising, and Menominee's Davey Luplow and Gunther DeDamos.
Luplow is fresh from winning Tuesday's M&M Border Battle in Marinette at 17:06.
"The two Menominee runners always find their way into the top and the Kingsford boy hasn't really broken through yet," said Berlinski. "All these guys are real good runners. Negaunee also has a couple good runners."
Gladstone freshman Leigha Woelffer placed fifth (20:27) and Manistique sophomore Holly Blowers took seventh (20:38) at Munising.
"I would look for Gladstone to be a challenge," said Berlinski. "Their second runner (freshman Alyssa Polley) ran a nice race. They're starting to make their move. They'll be tough, so will Menominee if they show up. We've been fortunate enough to finish ahead of them in a few meets and we hope to continue that."
Menominee senior Kameron Burmeister, who dominated last Saturday's Stephenson Invitational, cruised to victory Tuesday at Marinette.
Also among those to watch are Ironwood's Jessica Gering in the girls' race and Jared Joki among the boys. It's unknown, however, which division the Red Devils will fall into on Saturday.
Munising sophomore Brett Hannah and Stephenson junior Connor Cappaert, who placed fourth and fifth at Munising, figure to be among the small school frontrunners for the boys.
Others to watch are Bessemer senior Zach Mazurek, Superior Central senior Nick Maki, North Central freshman Seth Polfus and sophomore Bryce Holle and Carney senior Dionte Blahnik, who placed sixth in Marinette (18:13).
Munising freshman Marissa Immel and Norway's Kyra Johnson figure to be among the girls' frontrunners in the small school event, with Superior Central senior Selina Walters as this area's best bet.