PAINESDALE - At the end of the makeshift Jeffers Cross Country Invitational Wednesday, the local distance runners were greeted with a hill immediately before the finish line that stretched several hundred meters at an almost unbearable angle.
Most runners visibly pained just making it to the top of the hill, but Houghton's Isaac Stone, the winner of the boys' varsity 5K with an impressive 17:34 time in the first race of the season, didn't just conquer the hill.
He dominated it.
The field of boys’ runners sets off from South Range for the Jeffers Invitational, the first local cross country event of 2013, Wednesday. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
While Stone's top two competitors - teammate David Jazsczak and Calumet's Devin Berg - slowed at the inclined monstrosity, Stone powered through with a lock-jawed determination to come away with his first cross country victory.
His motivation was simple.
He promised his mother he would do his best.
Girls Team Scores - Calumet 29, Houghton 47, Hancock 65, Dollar Bay 85.
Girls Individual Results - 1, Chelsea Jacques, CAL, 20:45; 2, Abby Ternbruell, HAN, 21:05; 3, Leah Kiilunen, CAL, 21:45; 4, Marika Abbott, HOU, 21:59; 5, Abbey Helppi, CAL, 22:12; 6, Claire Helminen, CAL, 22:17; 7, Carli Daavettila, DB, 22:27; 8, Kelsie Richards, HOU, 22:29; 9, Erin McKenzie, HAN, 22:38; 10, Emily Fisher, HOU, 22:40.
Boys Team Scores - Calumet 33, Houghton 41, Hancock 77, Jeffers 97, Dollar Bay 105.
Boys Individual Scores - 1, Isaac Stone, HOU, 17:34; 2, David Jazsczak, HOU, 17:45; 3, Devin Berg, CAL, 18:14; 4, Mitchell Delong, CAL, 18:23; 5, Ethan Larson, CAL, 18:28; 6, Hayden Heikkinen, HAN, 18:30; 7, Kyle LeClaire, DB, 18:33; 8, Anthony Harris, JEF, 18:37; 9, Josh Larson, CAL, 18:39; 10, Rei Chen, HOU, 18:53.
"It is a little bit a mix of emotion right now," Stone said. "Yesterday my Mom (Jenni Stone) fell off a ladder while she was painting and ended up breaking both arms. She is in the hospital and I told her before I left the hospital this morning that I was going to run for her, so I'm a little bit mixed up right now."
A notable cross country skier, Stone has been putting in the work this summer to take his running abilities to the level of his skiing skills.
Under the trying circumstances, he found the edge necessary for the hard work to pay off.
"I heard everyone saying how bad the hill was, but I didn't think it was that bad," Stone said with a laugh. "I just kept running I guess."
With Jazsczak placing second but Calumet taking four of the top 10 spots, the Copper Kings won the team competition with a narrow 33-to-41 margin. As Houghton was missing two varsity regulars due to injury, the battle between the two schools promises to be a strong one this fall.
Heck, the battle on the Gremlins for top runner between Stone, Jazsczak and the currently-injured Jacob Colling will be compelling each race as well.
"My running partner David Jazsczak and I were running right next to each other pushing each other and encouraging each other," Stone said. "He has beaten me before and now I get to beat him. I think we are going to be trading off a lot this season. It is a lot of fun."
On the girls' side, it was a familiar winner in an unfamiliar place.
Calumet sprinter Chelsea Jacques already has five U.P. titles to her name and a U.P. record in Division 1. Of course, none of those races took more than 30 seconds.
On a whim this season, the sprinter decided to try her feet at something a little out of her comfort zone.
She won her first cross country race since middle school by 20 seconds even.
"I don't know, I just decided it would be more fun than volleyball," Jacques said. "It was just a random decision."
Jacques led all racers with a 20:45 time, outpacing second place Abby Tembruell from Hancock and fellow King Leah Kiilunen.
The trio were neck and neck for most of the course before Jacques put on her well-known finishing kick to pull away in the last half-kilometer.
"Me and Leah (Kiilunen) were together most of the way and the Hancock girl (Tembruell) was ahead of us," Jacques said. "I caught up to her some point in the last mile or so, and then right when we came to the hill I pulled ahead of her.
"I was thinking I just wanted to finish. Just get there as quick as I could so it would be over with."
Calumet won the girls competition with a total of 29, with Houghton placing second at 47 points.