Athletes from Yelm and Rainier put in endless hours this season, all working up to this moment. The moment that they run at state. Very few runners can say they have ever made it to the state tournament, even fewer can say that they placed.
There were 161 runners in the boys 3A race and sophomore Bryce Cerkowniak managed to outrun 153 of them, placing eighth at the state tournament despite coming in ranked 16th. With a time of 15:55 he was only nine seconds shy of a new season record. Next year, head boys coach Alex McIntire believes Cerkowniak will be shooting for the state title, as he will go into next season ranked third.
Going into the race junior Jacob Barnert was the wildcard, as he was not ranked going into the district race the week prior, but still made it to the state competition. He placed 131st with a time of 17:47, only two minutes slower than Cerkowniak and 15 seconds slower than his season record, showing how close the competition was at state.
“Although the boys did not let it bother them, the conditions in Pasco were not conducive to fast times. The new course was a grueling one to say the least, and high wind speeds were an added challenge,” McIntire said. “It was clear that only the athletes with extreme mental toughness would be successful on that day. Speed alone was not enough move up in the race.”
On the girls side for the Tornados was senior Katelynn Strate, running her final race of her high school career. She placed 66th out of 151 runner for the girls, with a time of 20:31. Looking forward to next year, head girls coach Dan Baker said Strate will be missed and very difficult to replace. The team will need to improve overall next year if they hope to keep this level of success after the graduation of their number one runner.
“If we get everyone except Katelynn back, we should be in pretty good shape. It is very difficult to replace a front runner like Katelynn. If each girl continues to improve and we can cut the time between our first and fifth runner, we could be in a similar spot next year,” Baker said. “If we get a few new athletes that can run with the varsity kids, we can be even better than this year.”
While the season is now over, McIntire and Baker are already looking forward to next season.
“Seeing young athletes with this much talent and dedication to their sport makes me very excited for the future. We will have the entire varsity team returning next year, and they understand that champions are made in the off season,” McIntire said of the boys team. “There is a culture of strong work ethic and determination that is quickly developing with this growing program. The individual success that this season brought has been the spark that will allow the Yelm cross country team to be a power house at the state level in the near future.”
Baker believes the success comes from the buy-in of the athletes into the program, as well. Included in this buy-in is the work the athletes have put in during their fitness training and practice workouts.
“Our program has had success this year because of the buy-in of our athletes. I think our athletes know the coaches really care for them as individuals and want them to be successful,” Baker said. “It comes down to the relationship between coaches and athletes, and the athletes being willing to do the work required to be good.”
He pointed out that at the beginning of the season he was not sure of the level of success his team could attain because of their lack of experience.
“Our team improved tremendously over the last couple of months. Part of the success was the increased fitness from training, and the other part was the belief they could achieve even more,” Baker said. “We really had a great group of kids this year and I really appreciate their willingness to work hard and support each other.”
The Mountaineers girls have been near the top in nearly every race this year, and the state meet was no exception. The girls scored a total of only 122 points, placing third overall. They also had several runners near the top, including two in the top 10. This was the best Rainier has ever done, according to head coach Rob Henry. Prior to this year, the best the girls had done was having an individual place fifth a few years ago, let alone having two girls on the podium and the team taking home third in the state.
The Mountaineers were ranked third going into state, so they performed up to standards, according to Henry, especially considering the difficulty of this new course. The course included more hills than the Rainier home course, so while the team went in with a bit of an edge, it was not much in comparison.
Senior Elaina Hansen took her usual spot near the front of the pack. She took fourth in the race with a time of 19:50. Not far behind Hansen was freshman Selena Niemi who placed seventh with a time of 20:26. Next up for the Mountaineer pack was Sophie Beadle who placed 27th, followed by Hazel Busic (77th), Alexis Diamond (88th), Nina Rostock (95th) and Nina Guizzetti (99th).
Rainier boys cross country was also represented at the state meet by two freshmen. Ryan Doidge finished 83rd with a time of 18:38 and Dylan Davis came in 131st out of 154 runners with a time of 19:49. Henry was impressed with his two freshmen, pointing out that only nine other freshman beat Doidge at the meet.
“It was a great season, the attitudes, the work ethic, the bonding,” Henry said. “It was really special.”
He also pointed out that this season shows how all of the hard work pays off. Most of his runners, at least on the girls side, worked all through the summer and it paid off coming in to state.