KINGSFORD - Scott Syrjala is known as a gritty, determined, intense coach when it comes to the track and field season.
But his Ishpeming boys track team nearly brought him to happy sobs after the Hematites not only won, but blew away the competition to capture their first Upper Peninsula boys championship since 2003 at the MHSAA finals held at Kingsford High School on Saturday.
"Having a 38-point lead coming down the stretch is a real feather in our kids' caps," Syrjala said two events before IHS completed a 39-point victory over Manistique, the defending champion and this year's runner-up. "I get emotional just talking to my seniors about the effort they put in."
Ishpeming’s Bobby Zhulkie, with arm raised at right, celebrates teammate Nate Meyer's close victory in the 1,600-meter relay at the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 boys track and field finals held in Kingsford on Saturday. Meyer edged out Manistique's Ryan Ramey, left, by eight-hundredths of a second and Hancock's Jacob Jarvis by about three-quarters of a second. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
He especially lauded the efforts put in by a quartet of seniors - Bobby Zhulkie, Derek DeCaire, Noah Olgren and Adam Prisk.
"You might as well call them the Four Horsemen," Syrjala said. "They showed up for Saturday workouts and they showed up for Sunday workouts.
"With the way the spring weather went, we had to have practices whenever the sun was shining."
Zhulkie said he and his fellow "horsemen" had a reason for their dedication.
"It was our goal from the beginning to win this meet. Last year was so close," Zhulkie said about the Emeralds not clinching their 2013 title over Ishpeming until the final event was complete. "We just took it seriously. We had a goal, and we weren't going to back down.
"We're like brothers. We all wanted to achieve one goal."
Syrjala said that by matching regional meet times and distances, his Hematites were somewhere around a 30-point favorite on Saturday.
"But I know Manistique is a faster team than that," the IHS coach said. "When I did the 'real' scoring, actually I saw they had a five-point edge on us."
He explained that bad weather at the Emeralds' regional probably caused sub-par performances, and he used times and distances from meets that he thought were more representative of Manistique's talent.
Ishpeming scored 115 points to 76 for Manistique, while Hancock was third in the 11-team field with 61. St. Ignace followed with 50, then came Westwood with 48, L'Anse 42, Ironwood and West Iron County 36 each, Newberry 27, Iron Mountain 22 and Norway 14.
St. Ignace won a much closer girls meet, scoring 116 points to 107 for WIC. Then came Newberry with 75, Manistique 63.5, Ishpeming 59.5, Westwood 49, Hancock, 25, Norway 20, L'Anse and Ironwood 6 each and Iron Mountain none.
In the boys meet, Olgren was the Hematites' lone individual event winner as he took the pole vault. Meyer and Prisk both were members of the 800 and 1,600 relay winners, with Meyer also on the 3,200 relay victors.
Manistique had a pair of individual winners - Ryan Ramey in the 400 and Tony Floyd in the 100. Both are seniors.
Westwood had a rare tie for first place in a running race, the 400 relay, knotting with St. Ignace.
In the girls meet, Manistique's Holly Blowers won the 800 and 1,600, while Newberry's Natalie Beaulieu took the 3,200 run and 3,200 relay.
In addition, Ishpeming's Libbie Doney won the pole vault while Westwood's Caitlin Hewitt won the 100 hurdles.