Norway runners challenge


Sports Writer

NORWAY – Negaunee’s girls, a dynasty when it comes to Mid-Peninsula Conference cross country, added a fifth straight league title Thursday at Strawberry Lake Park.

Negaunee’s boys may be ready follow the girls to great heights.

“The girls did very well,” Negaunee Coach Lisa Bigalk said. “We also had individual goals and most of them were met.

“They did what they needed to win the meet. That was most important.”

The Miners registered 39 points to best Westwood, 70; Norway, 75; Ishpeming, 76, and Manistique, 91.

Negaunee’s boys, with sophomore Grant Johnson and senior Keenan Gantz running one-two, chalked up 19 points in dominating the field. Runner-up Ishpeming posted 70 points, followed by Gwinn, 78; Norway, 108, and Westwood, 115.

“I think we were expected to win but sometimes you put a target on your back,” Bigalk said. “They really performed above and beyond.

“Some of them really stepped it up.”

Six Negaunee boys placed in the top 10, with just the top five counted for the team score. In addition to Johnson and Gantz, Mark Anderson took fourth; Ethan Wallner, fifth; Zach Carlson, seventh, and Kapin Fox, ninth.

“I have some young freshmen who are just incredible,” Bigalk noted. “They really helped this varsity team.”

Gantz seconded his coach.

“In my four years this is our best team,” Ganzt said. “We have a lot of strong freshmen and Grant is a real good runner.

“The freshmen are really making this team. This is the best freshmen class we’ve had in a long time.”

Wyleen Kniola, two-time defending MPC champ, led the Negaunee girls with a third (21:33). Melanie Kniola (fourth), Freddi Gjerrild (sixth) and Rachel Ring (11th) also medaled.

Manistique sophomore Holly Blowers led from start to finish, notching a personal best time of 20 minutes, 39 seconds, over the 3.1-mile course.

“I wanted to get a good start and get a good distance from everybody,” Blowers said. “I wasn’t expecting a PR today. I haven’t been practicing and I was really surprised with my performance.”

Conflicts with volleyball have limited her cross country workouts. This was her final event of the season with a cousin’s wedding in Hawaii nixing her participation in the U.P. Finals.

“I was pretty happy altogether,” said Blowers, who finished third last year. “This is probably one of my favorite courses. I was expecting something different because I’ve never run here before but I’ve heard stories about it’s really hilly. There was one big hill but it evened out by going downhill.”

Norway sophomore Kyra Johnson, second to Blowers, also clocked a personal best (20:46).

“I ran harder than I ever have in my life,” said Johnson, who appreciated family and friends cheering her on. “I was thinking I had a chance to win this. I just booked it and started going crazy at the the end.”

Johnson cited Blowers for the faster time.

“It was great to have her for competition,” she said.

Westwood’s Anni Bjork (22:28) wound up fifth. Coach David Langin’s Knights also placed Alexis Kallenbach, seventh, and Sarah Bietila, 10th.

Norway’s Justin Anderson held the lead over Johnson and Gantz until confronted with Borchardt’s Hill.

“It was good until the big hill,” Anderson said. “That’s when they passed me and I tried to stay with them. But they kicked it in around the corner there.

“They sprinted up the hill and that’s where I got tired a little.”

Johnson (17:56), Gantz (17:59) and Anderson (18:38) claimed the top three spots.

“We kind of paced each other but the Norway kid was out front early,” said Johnson, who ran a personal best. “We kind of let him peter out and took over. We were side by side until the last 50 meters and that’s when I kicked it in.”

This was Johnson’s second first of the season.

“Marquette’s not here so it’s a lot easier,” Johnson said with a smile.

Health problems, primarily wisdom teeth, have slowed Gantz in his final season.

“For this year, it’s one of my better ones,” Gantz said. “I’m getting better now.

“I wanted to stay with Grant. We work off each other and try to be one-two and see who comes out with the win.”

Norway hosts a small cross country meet Monday in preparation for the U.P. meet Saturday, Oct. 19, in Marquette.

GIRLS – Negaunee 39, Westwood 70, Norway 75, Ishpeming 76, Manistique 91.

Medalists – 1. Holly Blowers, M, 20:39; 2. Kyra Johnson, Nor, 20:46; 3. Wyleen Kniola, Neg, 21:33; 4. Melanie Kniola, Neg, 22:19; 5. Anni Bjork, Ww, 22:28; 6. Freddi Gjerrild, Neg, 22:52; 7. Alexis Kallenbach, Nor, 22:57; 8. Olivia Holmberger, Man, 23:03; 9. Khora Swanson, I, 23:14; 10. Sarah Bietila, Nor, 23:19; 11. Rachel Ring, Neg, 23:52; 12. Gabi French, Ww, 23:57; 13. Amber Gransinger, Ww, 25:30; 14. Lena Groger, I, 25:47; 15. Hailey Fezatt, Neg, 25:52.

BOYS – Negaunee 19, Ishpeming 70, Gwinn 78, Norway 108, Westwood 15.

Medalists – 1. Grant Johnson, Neg, 17:56; 2. Keenan Gantz, Neg, 17:59; 3. Justin Anderson, Nor, 18:38; 4. Mark Anderson, Neg, 18:42; 5. Ethan Wallner, Neg, 18:46; 6. Alex Anderson, Gw, 18:52; 7. Zach Carlson, Neg, 18:55; 8. Skyler Dakota, Ww, 18:59; 9. Kadin Fox, Neg, 19:06; 10. Kaz Langness, I, 19:10; 11. Robert Ayotte, Man, 19:20; 12. Mark Holmgren, Ish, 19:22; 13. Ryan Hunt, Ww, 19:23; 14. Luke Redlon, Gw, 19:30; 15. Aidan Anderson, Gw, 19:31.