By JOHN VRANCIC
For the Gazette
IRON RIVER - Through much of this cross country season there has been plenty of talk about the Escanaba and Marquette boys being among the Upper Peninsula's Division 1 frontrunners.
Houghton, after winning the Westwood Challenge and Ishpeming Invitational last week, continued to serve notice it deserves to be included in that conversation following a convincing victory in Monday's West Iron County Invitational.
The Gremlins grabbed five of the top nine places and scored 25 points on this sunny, breezy and seasonably cool day at the Iron River Country Club.
"We're real happy with the results," Coach Traci Welch said, noting all seven Houghton runners placed in the top 15. "Our depth is real good. We have our eyes on the U.P. Finals. The potential is there for us to be contenders."
At Iron River Country Club
Houghton 25, Calumet 70, Hancock 103, Dollar Bay 126, Ironwood 127, Painesdale Jeffers 142, Chassell 177, Bessemer, Wakefield-Marenisco, Baraga and West Iron County NTS.
Top 10 - 1, Jared Joki, Ironwood, 16:44; 2, David Jazsczak, Houghton, 16:59; 3, Jacob Colling, Houghton, 17:12; 4, Zack Mazurek, Bessemer, 17:21; 5, Isaac Stone, Houghton, 17:23; 6, Dan Wood, Houghton, 17:41; 7, Devin Berg, Calumet, 17:41.1; 8, Josh Larson, Calumet, 17:54; 9, Ri Chen, Houghton, 18:02; 10, Tom Autio, Dollar Bay, 18:15.
Calumet 32, Houghton 57, Hancock 69, Dollar Bay 112, Ironwood, Bessemer, Wakefield-Marenisco, West Iron County, Baraga, Chassell, Painesdale Jeffers NTS.
Top 10 - 1, Jessica Gering, Ironwood, 20:26; 2, Leah Kiilunen, Calumet, 20:36; 3, Chelsea Jacques, Calumet, 20:36.1; 4, Noelle Polakowski, Houghton, 20:44; 5, Abbey Tembruell, Hancock, 20:56; 6, Corey Miller, Calumet, 20:56.1; 7, Erin McKenzie, Hancock, 20:57; 8, Lily Wieringa, Bessemer, 21:01; 9, Abbey Helppi, Calumet, 21:04; 10, Tori Harris, West Iron County, 21:06.
Runner-up Calumet scored 70, followed by Hancock 103 and Dollar Bay 126.
The Calumet girls won with 32 points, followed by Houghton 57, Hancock 69 and Dollar Bay 112.
"The girls ran well overall," said Calumet coach Arne Kinnunen. "Our number three, four and five runners had great performances. We were able to show a little depth today."
Ironwood junior Jared Joki won the boys' 3.1-mile race in 16 minutes, 44 seconds.
"I started out real well," said Joki. "There were times when it seemed like I may have gone out too fast. But it was nice running against some of the Houghton guys. I was trying to push it on the uphills. I really like this course, and I think the weather was real nice for running. Overall, this is probably the best weather I had this year."
Joki was followed on this hilly course by Houghton juniors David Jazsczak (16:59) and Jacob Colling (17:12), Bessemer senior Zach Mazurek (17:21) and Houghton's Isaac Stone (17:23) and Dan Wood (17:41).
"We have the depth," said Jazsczak. "Jake and Isaac were right behind me. It's great having Jake back. He strengthens our team."
Jazsczak had been battling a knee injury and Stone was hindered by an Achilles tendon injury during this season, and Colling underwent hernia surgery six weeks before the opener.
"We're just starting to come back together," said Welch. "Dan Wood, who was our fourth runner today, has done a phenomenal job. As a team, I think the win at Ishpeming gave us some confidence."
Kinnunen was also impressed with Houghton's performance.
"Houghton is running strong," he said. "Right now, our boys' team is not running up to its potential. We need to come out with more fire and desire."
Calumet's leaders were Devin Berg in seventh (17:41.1) and Josh Larson eighth (17:54).
Dollar Bay was paced by Tom Autio in 10th (18:15).
Ironwood senior Jessica Gering was the girls' winner at 20:26, followed by Calumet's Leah Kiilunen (20:36) and Chelsea Jacques (20:36.1), Houghton's Noelle Polakowski (20:44) and Hancock's Abby Tembruell (20:56).
"The hill along the highway (M-189) doesn't look that long, but it kills you," said Gering. "We had to run it twice and the headwind made it even more challenging. I knew about the uphill coming into the finish, and it was nice having the downhill right before that. I just tried to push it on the last uphill."