Saturday’s cross country race between Olympia and Yelm at LBA Park was remarkable for a number of reasons. The first was its rarity. Rarely do the 3A Tornados get the chance to measure themselves …
Saturday’s cross country race between Olympia and Yelm at LBA Park was remarkable for a number of reasons.
The first was its rarity. Rarely do the 3A Tornados get the chance to measure themselves against a 4A team, especially one such as the Bears, but so goes prep sports in the era of COVID as officials look to keep athletes and teams in regions. The two are also similar in that both programs have been highly successful in recent years, producing some of their best-ever runners.
The second reason was the top-two finishers on the boys side: A top runner from both the 4A and 3A classes duked it out on the course, crossing the finish line within seconds of each other in what was a highly competitive 5,000-meter race.
Olympia junior Ethan Coleman (16 minutes, 7 seconds) ultimately had the advantage over Yelm senior Bryce Cerkowniak (16:17) that day, beating him by 10 seconds on an up-hill breakaway and taking the top spot on a rugged Olympia home course.
Despite the loss on top — on both the boys and girls races — Yelm made a solid showing by utilizing its young talent. Junior Ryan Lange (17:50) finished third with sophomore Zachary Walsh (17:52) on his tail at fourth.
Yelm freshman Sophia Laughlin (24:45) earned a fourth-place finish, and senior Kya Ramirez (24:15) had the second-place spot.
“It was kind of tradition versus new blood, I’d call it,” said Yelm head boys coach Alex McIntire. “But I’d agree that we both have some of the top individuals in the state and it was a good matchup.”
The boys team was down three of its top-five runners. Senior Kelan Herness and juniors Calum Thornhill and Ethan Coon were out on minor injuries, leaving the team’s talented sophomores and freshmen to work their way out on the course.
The Bears ended the Tornados undefeated streak 27-32 and the Lady Bears bested Yelm 22-39 on the girls side. The Tornados will return to this course for their “culminating conference event,” which takes the place for any district or state meets.
“To put it into perspective, Bryce and the winner were under the course record. So, great times, a challenging course. Big hills, mud, slush — everything you’d want to see in a cross country race,” McIntire said.
Cerkowniak went into the race with a good outlook, feeling well both physically and mentally. He told the NVN Monday that his plan going up against Coleman was to mirror his path as practically as possible.
“I had a plan ... And that was to just kind of go off what he did,” Cerkowniak said. “That worked really well for me in the race up until about a half-mile from the end and he just ran away from me.”
At the end of the day, the race for the top spot came down to strategy, he said. Cerkowniak hadn’t studied the course until the day of the race, and he worked with his teammates to get as best a feel for the terrain as they could during warmups.
“He knew the course really well, and I think that was the biggest factor going into it,” Cerkowniak said, adding that it’s possible he could have beat him out on a neutral site such as the Pasco course. “It’s always different when you’re racing … You never know how you’re going to feel at any point in the races until you’re doing it for the first time.”
Despite the classification difference, and the possibility that it’ll likely be a long time before Yelm and Olympia face each other again in mere one-on-one fashion, there was a lot of respect between the two top runners.
“It was difficult. Bryce is one of the fastest guys I know, and having him tail me the entire race — that was a great motivator. I had to keep pushing. I couldn’t freeze because I knew the second I let up that guy was going to try and pass me,” Coleman told The Runner WA on Saturday in a video interview.
The strategy, Coleman said, was to distance himself from Cerkowniak on a breakaway hill that he sprinted up and knew would stifle any recovery.
“As an athlete, I respect him a lot … You can tell his work ethic is really good and he’s one of the top guys in 4A for sure,” Cerkowniak said of Coleman. “I’m definitely looking forward to going back there and racing again … I was definitely more reactive the first time, but now I’m looking forward to being more proactive for sure.”
McIntire said he saw a lot of great things from his younger guys. Walsh keeping up with No. 2 Lange was a big part of that.
“This sophomore really stepped up. He’s very, very motivated and very talented, and it’s starting to show. He really stepped up,” McIntire said. Walsh will receive Athlete of the Week accolades from the Yelm High School Athletic Department.
Lange has also been the face of consistency and improvement out on the course for Yelm.
Ramirez finished 2nd out on the course Saturday for Yelm in her season’s best, trailing the Bears’ No. 1 Jordan Gram, a sophomore, by 10 seconds at the end.
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