By JOHN VRANCIC
For the Daily News
NORWAY - A pair of area underclassmen had their chance to shine Monday as each picked up their first varsity cross country victory at the Norway Invitational.
Norway sophomore Kyra Johnson was crowned girls' champion and North Central freshman Seth Polfus was awarded the boys' title.
The North Central boys captured the title with 29 points, followed by Norway 55, Munising 56 and Big Bay de Noc 81.
Munising edged Norway 26-29 for the girls' championship. North Central and Big Bay didn't field complete teams.
Johnson covered the 3.1-mile course at Strawberry Lake in 21 minutes, seven seconds on this sunny and seasonably cool day. She was followed by Munising's Anna Baij (21:58) and Norway's Alexis Kallenbach (22:39).
Baij was the leader after the first mile, but Johnson overtook her on the long upward grade on Strawberry Lake Road.
"People usually get me on the uphills," said Johnson. "But I know this course, which I think helped me. I felt pretty good about my chances going into the last mile. There was a point (in the first mile) where we were side-by-side and talking to each other."
Johnson's victory came on the heels of a runner-up finish to Manistique's Holly Blowers in the Mid-Peninsula Conference meet at Norway last Thursday.
"I got my best time (20:46) when I ran with her (Blowers)," said Johnson. "Unfortunately, Holly won't be at the U.P. (Division 2) Finals. I'm going to miss running with her on Saturday. I'll need to stay up with the front pack. Although, you can sometimes push yourself too hard. I'll have to balance things out. I also want to make sure I have something left in the end."
Grady Kerst of Shelter Bay Home School was the first boy to cross the finish line at 17:45.
The freshman harrier, however, isn't affiliated with any school sanctioned by Michigan High School Athletic Association which made him ineligible to claim victory, according to meet officials.
"I kind of treated this as my U.P. Finals," said the soft-spoken Kerst, who began to pull away from the field after the first mile. "I just wanted to do my best. This has been fun. The Munising people have been very nice to me. I hope to transfer over there next year."
Polfus was clocked at 18:15, followed by sophomore teammate Bryce Holle (18:23) and Norway's Justin Anderson (18:57).
"Grady and Bryce ran good today," said Polfus. "Bryce was staying with Grady and I tried to keep them in sight. Then, I made my move in the last mile. This is a good start to this week. This was good preparation for the U.P. (Division 3) Finals."
North Central's next two finishers ran personal-bests with junior Dillon Robinson seventh (20:01) and freshman Tyler Bentley eighth (20:07).
"Bryce was leading at the mile," said North Central coach Jerry Root. "I think he went out a little too fast. Although, he and Seth have been pretty consistent. I think this was little bit of a confidence builder for Dillon and Tyler. Those are significant times for them going into the U.P. Finals. To accomplish this without Josh (Granquist) is a significant step in the right direction. This was a great effort by the whole team."
Norway coach Dave Langin was pleased with the Knights' runner-up finishes.
"For the most part, the kids are working hard," he said. "We've seen improvement from every one of our kids, and most of them will be back next year. Hopefully, they'll train in the off-season and bring their times down even further."
Munising ran without sophomore Brett Hannah, who made the trip but didn't run due to hip problems.
The season concludes with Saturday's U.P. Finals at Gentz's Homestead Golf Course in Harvey.
BOYS -North Central 29, Norway 55, Munising 56, Big Bay de Noc 81.
Top 10 - 1, Seth Polfus, North Central, 18:15; 2, Bryce Holle, North Central, 18:23; 3, Justin Anderson, Norway, 18:57; 4, Sam MacArthur, Munising, 19:15; 5, Lucas Sundling, 19:16; 6, Anders Busk, Munising, 19:44; 7, Dillon Robinson, North Central, 20:01; 8, Tyler Bentley, North Central, 20:07; 9, Jordan Mauro, Norway, 20:38; 10, Lucas Rittenger, Munising, 20:40.
GIRLS - Munising 26, Norway 29, North Central and Big Bay de Noc NTS.
Top 10 - 1, Kyra Johnson, Norway, 21:07; 2, Anna Baij, Munising, 21:58; 3, Alexis Kallenbach, Norway, 22:39; 4, Alyssa St. Amour, Munising, 22:45; 5, Sarah Charboneau, Munising, 22:53; 6, Sarah Bietila, Norway, 23:09; 7, Julia Jacques, Munising, 23:53; 8, Diana Charboneau, Munising, 24:08; 9, Cassie Cayemberg, Big Bay de Noc, 25:17; 10, Meghan Schultz, Norway, 25:39.