ESCANABA - Many people like to go bird hunting on Saturdays in the fall, but the North Central boys are going title hunting.
The Jets are heading to Harvey on Saturday in pursuit of their first Upper Peninsula Division 3 cross country championship.
"We're as healthy as we've been," said Jets' coach Jerry Root. "We seem to be peaking at the right time. The kids believe they can compete for top honors. Although, it's going to be an eye-opening experience when we pull into that parking lot (at Gentz's Homestead Golf Course) and see all those busses. I can see about 4-5 teams that will be contenders. The biggest thing about the U.P. Finals is the surprise factor. It seems like every year something happens you don't count on."
Also expected to be in the hunt is two-time defending champ Munising, Stephenson and Pickford.
Stephenson was crowned D-2 champion the past three years and Pickford was runner-up to Sault Ste. Marie in this year's Straits Area Conference Jamboree.
This race features two U.P. champions from a year ago.
Munising sophomore Brett Hannah, who sat out Monday's Norway Invitational due to a hip problem, hopes to retain his title. Joining him is Stephenson junior Connor Cappaert, last year's D-2 champion.
Also in contention are Bessemer senior Zack Mazurek, who placed third in Thursday's Indianhead Conference championship meet at Hurley, Wis., and this year's SAC overall champ John Andrzejak of Pickford.
North Central's leaders, freshman Seth Polfus and sophomore Bryce Holle who placed 1-2 at Norway, could also be in the hunt, with Carney-Nadeau senior Dionte Blahnik potentially in the mix.
"Seth has medalled in every meet this year and Bryce medalled in all but one," said Root. "That's showing consistency."
Josh Granquist, the Jets' lone senior, is set to run Saturday after playing football Friday night at home against Bark River-Harris.
"Josh carries the ball more than anybody at North Central," said Root. "We're hoping he's healthy on Saturday. Josh has been with us for four years and had never been involved in a trophy until this year. We would love to see him go out on top."
Junior Dillon Robinson, who had been battling respiratory issues and an ankle injury, placed seventh in 20:01 at Norway with freshman Tyler Bentley eighth (20:07) on that course.
"Dillon has faced a lot of adversity this season, but he still fought on," said Root. "Tyler could be the X factor in all this. His times have dropped. Jared Gerlach has also been consistent and has a great work ethic."
The St. Ignace girls were D-3 champions last season. The Saints, however, have returned to D-2 this year where they are again expected to be in contention.
Munising, fresh from winning at Norway, figures to be among the frontrunners with Dollar Bay and Cedarville among its main competitors.
The Mustangs are led by freshman Marissa Immel, who played volleyball in a 3-1 victory over Big Bay de Noc Monday night and didn't make the trip to Norway.
Other contenders are Cedarville's Alexis Barr, an All-SAC selection, and Dollar Bay's Carli Daavettila who ran a 21:50 and placed ninth in the West-Pac Conference meet.
"Sam Cryderman (of North Central) ran her best time at Norway," said Root. "She has been improving all year."