The Yelm track and field team returned to practice in February and competed in their annual jamboree on Wednesday, March 15.
As the team prepares to enter its regular season competitions, Yelm’s coaches believe they have fielded a strong team this season.
Dan Baker, the girls head track coach, expects his athletes to build off of last year’s strong campaign. Five girls went on to the state meet and four of them returned to the team this season.
“We think we have a chance to be better than last year,” Baker said. “They’re looking pretty good. It’s looking better than last year, but we just have to stay healthy. It’s a good time to be a Yelm track and field athlete.”
The girls team has experienced an increase in participation. Last season, they sported a roster of 40 girls. That number increased to 57 athletes this year.
Baker attributes the growth to rebuilding efforts after the team’s numbers took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the girls wanted to be a part of a strong program.
Baker has been a part of Yelm’s track and field program for 26 years. He is set to retire from coaching and teaching at Yelm High School at the end of the year. He has taught at Yelm High School for 29 years.
“It’s been good, but it’s time to go on to the next phase of life,” Baker said. “It’s really cool because everywhere you go, you see somebody from the classroom or somebody from sports. It’s a nice feeling in a small town like this.”
Chris Stovall, the boys head coach, said this year’s team is the most cohesive one he has seen during his tenure at Yelm. Aside from cohesion, Stovall said the athletes provide a lot of depth this season.
“The highlight of our team is going to be our field,” Stovall said. “Our boys in the field, whether it’s Brayden Platt, Jordan Lasher, Isaiah Patterson, the team is super deep. It’s the first team that I’ve seen here where they could literally take first through sixth at districts. They’re that strong.”
Stovall added that while it will be tough to replace the points produced by Kyler Ronquillo, he believes the young core of the team is strong and will be able to gain back some of those points.
He expects his boys to be one of the top ranked programs in the state, but his team’s goals don’t stop at just rankings.
“The idea is to win a state championship, and that’s what we want to come out here and do,” Stovall said.
Alex McIntyre coaches the long distance runners at Yelm High School.
McIntyre said eyes should be on Zach Walsh, who has set a goal to become the league champion in the 3200-meter race. Walsh won the league championship during cross country season in the fall.
“There is a great group following his lead. Thirteen athletes trained consistently over the winter and are coming into the season with big engines,” McIntyre said. “Now, we focus on getting that engine into a Ferrari.”
McIntyre added freshman Kailey Slevin, who made a name for herself during the cross country season, is leading the girls side of the distance program.
“She has a lot of heart and talent,” McIntyre said. “I am very optimistic that she will have a competitive season.”
All three coaches spoke highly of Slevin, who they said will be a valuable member of the program for years to come.
McIntyre said he coaches around 30 distance runners, which is the largest group of runners he’s had on the team.
“The crew is huge and I love the numbers. Numbers win track meets,” McIntyre said. “We have that on the distance side more than we’ve ever had that before. We have quality in quantity and I’m really optimistic for the future. They worked really hard this winter and I’m confident it’s going to show in some capacity this spring.”
The team will have its first track meet of the season on Friday, March 24 at Capital High School in a tri-meet with the Cougars and the North Thurston Rams. Then on Friday, March 31, Yelm will participate in another tri-meet at Gig Harbor High School with the Tides and the Capitol Cougars.
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