ESCANABA - There's a cross country team coming out of the north, bringing impressive credentials to today's Great Northern Conference meet.
The Marquette girls are set to invade the Dale Fountain Cross Country Course at Banat in search of their 14th straight league title.
"They have a potent 1-2 punch, although they still have to run the race," Gladstone coach Gary Whitmer said of the Redettes. "They've been pretty consistent all year. They're a lot like Calumet was a few years ago."
Also joining host Stephenson today are Gladstone, Escanaba, Menominee and Kingsford.
The meet begins with the jayvee race at 4 p.m. (EDT), followed by the girls' and boys' varsity events. All races are 3.1 miles.
Marquette, fresh from last week's victory at Pulaski, Wis., is undefeated this season. The Redettes edged Green Bay Notre Dame 66-70 for the title and sophomore Lindsey Rudden won the four-kilometer (2 1/2-mile) race in 14 minutes, 49 seconds. Freshman teammate Amber Huebner placed third (15:09).
"The Marquette girls are very good," said Escanaba coach Jake Berlinski. "They probably have five of the top 10-15 runners. They have everything you want to have on a cross country team. Yet, there's a reason why they run the race. All we can do is run our best. You can't worry about your opponents. You can't control what they do."
Rudden and Menominee senior Kameron Burmeister are also unbeaten this season.
Among Burmeister's victories is a first in the West DePere, Wis. Invitational, where she was clocked at 15:26 on Sept. 12.
"Kameron is a runner who has the experience," said Berlinski. "It will be fun to watch. We can expect the times to be pretty fast. The top pack of girls should be fairly close."
Also hoping to be in the hunt are Gladstone freshman Leigha Woelffer and Esky junior Aimee Giese.
"Leigha has been solid all year," said Whitmer. "Only, she needs to be a little more patient and finish strong. Leigha's a real joy to have on the team because she's somebody who wants to get out there and train. Sadie Strasser has been coming on, too. It was nice to see her finish strong at Flat Rock (fifth in the Gladstone Invitational on Oct. 1)."
Giese is Esky's pacesetter. She didn't run at Ishpeming last Thursday, but senior Aubree Peterson placed fourth in a late-season comeback effort. Peterson missed two meets due to a sinus infection prior to resuming last week.
"Aimee is a typical big-race runner," said Berlinski. "She's getting over little bit of a cold, but I think she'll be ready to accept the challenge on Thursday.
The Esky boys hope to keep the title for the third straight year, but Berlinski knows Marquette will provide a major challenge.
"It will be interesting," he said. "The Marquette boys are good from top to bottom. We're excited and I think we're ready. Hopefully, we're up to the challenge. I know Menominee will also have a say in it."
Among those expected to be among the frontrunners are Marquette senior Cole Rieboldt and sophomore Lance Rambo, Esky junior Eric Cousineau, Menominee's Davey Luplow and Gunther DeDamos, Stephenson junior Connor Cappaert and Kingsford sophomore Nate Carey.
"It will be fun watching Eric, Cole and Lance battle it out with all the other top runners," said Berlinski. "Anything can happen. Any one of those guys could walk out as conference champion.
"Eric seems to have pretty fresh legs. I know he wants it. He's not going to give it to anybody. If you're going to beat Eric, you're going to work for it. It's 100 percent effort all the time with him."
Gladstone's best bet is freshman Connor Powell.
"I think Connor will be rested up," said Whitmer. "I think Escanaba is also well rested and has a shot at it. It will be nice to see how we all match up for the U.P. (Division 1) Finals. Our boys are pretty healthy and they're getting a little faster. Only, they're having a hard time breaking the 20-minute barrier."