MARQUETTE - As event coordinator Nikki Dewald read the names of those who made it to the podium after Friday afternoon's Junior Noquemanon, a brief but heavy snow filled the footprints and dusted the shoulders of racers and spectators.
They were all undeterred by the flakes, of course. Especially the youth racers who, for the most part, have been training on ice for the past two weeks. For them, the conditions this week and on Friday meant one thing - less ice skating and more skiing.
"Before we got snow (this year), it was not amazing skiing," said Ben Wright, a 15-year-old Marquette Senior High School student who finished first for the Superiorland Ski Club in the boys five-kilometer freestyle. "It was practically ice skating. It was rock hard, so if you fell it kind of bruised you and scraped your skin up.
Isaac Stone of the Copper Country Ski Tigers leads the boys 5-kilometer freestyle Junior Noquemanon race along the Forestville Trails near Marquette. In second place at the time is Logan Zeuger of the Superiorland Ski Club. (Journal photo by Amanda Monthei)
Erin Lipp of Traverse City leads girls 5-kilometer freestyle Junior Noquemanon race along the Forestville Trails near Marquette. (Journal photos by Amanda Monthei)
"But we made do with what we had and then the snow came and we were like 'Whoo!'"
Wright, who finished second to Copper Country racer Isaac Stone, added that conditions this week were more than welcome in preparation for the annual Noquemanon Ski Marathon. By the time Friday's race came around, the Forestville trails were perfect.
"I actually thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was," Superiorland skier Abby Potts, 16, said.
Potts was fourth overall in the girls division of the 5K freestyle, which was best among Marquette skiers. "The snow is in a lot better of condition than (before), so it went well. Yesterday was very slow and sticky and awful. I think they groomed well and our coach did a good job waxing our skis."
Finishing before Potts were the Copper Country Ski Tigers' Sarah Lyle, who won in 17 minutes, 1 second; Erin Lipp of Traverse City in 17:15, and Isabel Sharpe, another Copper Country skier, in 17:46. Potts crossed in 18:06, 20 seconds ahead of teammate Bethany Wright.
The guys' race had a little more of a "picture perfect" finish, according to Wright. Wright was second in 15:08 to Stone, who came across the line just a second earlier at 15:07. Two other Superiorland skiers crossed the line in the same group, as Logan Zeuger and Mike Wiitala finished 3-4 in 15:09 and 15:14, respectively.
"It seems like during this race, we always have a photo finish," Wright said. "Everyone is just sprinting to the end and it's a lot of fun.
"All four of us have always been close. We pushed each other during this race, but I think the first part was too slow. There is a giant hill right at the beginning and we all went really slow before it and I think we just needed to get a little faster on that part. I got a little behind at the top of that hill."
The Copper Country Ski Tiger winners of the boys and girls 5K freestyle events have seen their Superiorland competition frequently over the past month. Both Stone and Lyle both said that they went in to Friday with clear competition from both Marquette skiers and other area clubs - on Lyle's radar was Lipp from TC, who was within only seconds of her on Friday, while Stone expected the trio of Superiorland skiers to be strong on their own trails.
"I knew the Marquette kids would be defending their territory today," Stone said. "They were out in force at the beginning, but the race is the whole race and it doesn't just count in the beginning. Eventually I was able to catch back up but it was a good race."
Other top Superiorland finishers in Friday's race were Ingrid Lindquist and Erica Cousineau, who were 21st and 25th respectively. In the boys 5K freestyle, Superiorland's Paul Zybert crossed the line in 12th for Marquette, while Craig Ekstrum of Negaunee came in 13th. Luke Rambo and Mac Halley-Gluesing went 14-15 while Nic Lacelle was 17th.
In the boys 10K, which was a qualifier for nationals, Superiorland's Blake Murray took first in 30:08, while Andrew Bruening of Traverse City, a consistent competitor of Murray, was just a second slower.
Joseph Wood of Houghton and Morgan Halley-Gluesing of Marquette won the boys and girls 3K freestyle at the Junior Noque, while Ryan Durand of Interlochen and Gretchen Haggenmiller of Houghton won the boys and girls 3K classic events, respectively.
Amanda Monthei can be reached at 228-2500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org