Houghton girls make history: Cross Country team wins first UP Finals
HOUGHTON — As the big, yellow school turned the corner from Sharon Avenue onto Gundlach Road on Saturday afternoon, there was an excitement in the air.
In front of them, was a City of Houghton fire truck with lights and sirens blasting.
Behind the team bus was a Hurontown fire truck doing the same and a few cars down a City of Houghton police car followed suit. It was a ticker-tape parade of sorts to welcome home the Houghton High School girls cross country team that had just won the U.P. Division 1 cross country finals at Marquette’s Presque Isle Park.
It was the first Houghton cross country U.P. Finals championship in school history.
Their winning score of 56 put the Gremlins just two points ahead of Marquette (58) and a spot in the Houghton High School history book.
Unfortunately the team’s head coach, Traci Welch was not able to witness it all do to a possible exposure to COVID-19 earlier in the week. However, she said she was definitely there in spirit. She followed the race on Superior Timing’s website, showing live score updates as runners crossed the finish line.
“I was watching Superior Timing and texting (assistant) coach Erik (Johnson) back and forth saying, ‘They can do it. They can do it. I think they got it, we got it’,” she said. “I’m proud and ecstatic for all of our team. I am just happy they got to compete and run. It was a strange season and an even weirder finish for me.”
Houghton junior, Paige Sleeman, crossed the finish line with a time of 20:55.2. This was Sleeman’s first year competing as a Division 1 runner. In previous years, she was a Division 3 runner while at Chassell High School.
“It was quite an impressive feat to make the jump from D3 to D1 and then be able to win it all,” Johnson said.
Ingrid Seagren finished third for the Gremlins with a time of 21:19:4. Autumn Eles came in ninth and was Houghton’s third best finisher with a time of 22:23:5.
In the boys’ race, Houghton finished third as a team with a score of 69. Marquette won with a score of 38 and Sault Ste. Marie took second place at 47. Houghton’s Eric Weiss came in second overall with a time of 17.32.5. Jaron Wymna, of Sault Ste. Marie won the boy’s division with a time of 17.19.0.
Despite leaving a cold and snowy Houghton on Saturday morning, the Gremlins were greeted with slightly warmer temperatures and no snow as they rolled into Marquette.
“The conditions were not bad,” Johnson said. “What we did was run well as a team.”
He added that is often the fourth and fifth runners that make the difference for the team and that certainly was the case in Marquette.
“Every little spot counted literally,” he said. “There was a Marquette girl right behind our number five girl (Elisa Isaacson). It was just phenomenal to watch our girls run like that.”
The first-place finish for the Gremlin girls was the ‘icing on the cake’ for a team that never gave up, Johnson said.
“What impressed me with these girls is how they never quit,” he said. “Even when we got shut down they got out and did their workouts. They missed out on so much, including their senior night but they battled through all of that and left it all out on the course.”
Both Johnson and Welch gave high praise to their only senior runner Isaacson.
“Elisa was our rock all season long,” Johnson said. “She led the team and kept everyone focused. It was the perfect way to send her off after she had done so much for the program.”
With a girls’ team full of juniors, the Gremlins cross country team has a bright future for next year. Until then, Johnson is just soaking in the reality of Saturday’s monumental victory.
“Our girls got to be a part of history today during these historical times,” Johnson said.