Lending a helping hand

KINGSFORD – Last year, the duo of Ontonagon’s Lori Wardynski and Paige Blake finished third in the team standings at the Division 3 U.P. Track and Field Finals.

On Saturday, they brought reinforcements – and they needed every bit of their support.

With Wardynski and Blake performing like the formidable duo they are – combining to score 62 points – along with scoring from their teammates in the 400 and 1600 relays, the Ontonagon Gladiators claimed their first U.P. Track and Field title since 1974, finishing with 72 points to edge the second-place Newberry Indians (65) for the Division 3 championship on a rain-filled day at Kingsford.

“All those hard practices that they did – when things hurt and figured their coach was a dirty sock washer over the deal – they saw it pays off,” Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said. “For our departing seniors, I couldn’t be prouder of them. And for our freshman that came in, they can see things are possible.

“I’m just so proud of these girls. They’re just great people.”

As great as Wardynski – three firsts (100, 300 hurdles, high jump) and a second (100 hurdles) – and Blake were, their individual performances alone were not enough to elevate Ontonagon to tops in the U.P; it was the new faces at this year’s Finals who were the difference.

The team of Hope Pintar, Holly Wardynski, Jenny Labyak and Makenzie Fredrickson finished fourth in the 400 relay (55.06 seconds) to score four points, while Cleo Allen, Fahren Kolpack, Jenny Labyak and Pintar took third in the 1600 relay (4:29.83) to record six points.

“I have to give huge credit to the rest of the team,” Blake said. “We needed those extra girls to put us over the top, so we wouldn’t have done it without them. They did awesome in their relays. We’re extremely thankful for them.”

And of course, Lori Wardynski and Blake did more than their share.

After her final event of the day, Wardynski had one thing on her mind: take a nap. It’s hard not to blame her.

Wardynski’s bid for a four-event sweep came .07 short, as she finished third in the 100 hurdles behind Newberry’s Taylor Bryant and Brimley’s Kerri Chartrand. But she was unflappable in her other three. Despite the early downpour, Wardynski cleared 4-10 to win the high jump; after being put in the slower of the two heats in the 100, she proceeded to win (13.40); then she set a Division 3 U.P. Finals record in the 300, finishing in 47.27, besting the 2009 record of North Central’s Brooke Granquist (48.07).

“The high jump was when it was raining the hardest in the day, so I was happy I was able to jump well,” Wardynski said. “I didn’t clear 5-0 like I wanted to, but I didn’t have any misses until then.

“The 100 hurdles I had a really good start, but I didn’t transition to four steps as soon as I should have, so I lost some momentum Got beat by two really good girls.”

In the 100, Wardynski initially was led to believe she would be in the eighth lane in the fast heat. She was not. That slight did not go over well with her.

“Especially what made me mad, I was supposed to be sixth, but with time adjustments, they put me to eighth,” she said. “So I thought I’d be in the eighth lane of the fast heat… Yeah, I was kind of mad, but I was mad enough to win a good race.”

Wardynski eventually closed her track career with the finest 300 hurdles in U.P. Finals history, winning by a second-and-a-half over Bryant.

“When I was at the starting line, I told myself – and through the first two hurdles – ‘This is the last time you’re going to have to run it, go as hard as you can,'” Wardynski said. “I pushed myself as hard as I could the whole way.”

Blake knows all about pushing oneself to its limits; she typically falls to the ground after crossing the finish line in a 400. But on Saturday, she was a few steps before the line before she started to tumble.

“I just give it my all,” Blake said. “I had about two steps left until I crossed the finish line and all of a sudden I was on the ground.”

Blake fell across the line for the win (1:03.26) to defend last year’s title. The medical staff on hand rushed to Blake’s aid to check on her.

“Those people came over and I said, ‘Did I cross the line?’ They said, ‘You crossed,'” Blake said. “I was relieved and was like OK, I can relax.”

Blake added a second in the 200 (28.09, a third in the long jump (14-09) and a fifth in the 100 (13.68) for a total of 26 points.

The Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes finished third in Division 3 girls, finishing with 58 points. LL-H’s Stephanie Harry (7-06) took first in the pole vault after a five-way tie was decided by misses to give her the victory, while Laura Lyons recorded a win in long jump (15-03).