OLYMPIA - October of 2020 was the last time Olympia's Ethan Coleman and Yelm's Bryce Cerkowniak raced each other was in a 5k on the track.
Although it was an unofficial race, the two ran new personal best marks, but it was Coleman who came out on top in the end running a time of 14:43 to Cerkowniak's 14:51.
Fast forward four months later, Coleman and Cerkowniak would meet again, except this time it wasn't on the track.
The Olympia Bears and Yelm Tornados faced off in an out-of-conference dual this past Saturday, February 27, at LBA Park for what was a tight team battle and a competitive individual race as well.
Going into the race, Coleman knew it would be a grind just like it was back in October to take down an opponent like Cerkowniak, who he says is one of the fastest and strongest runners around in the state for cross country.
"It was difficult," said Coleman. "I had to keep pushing through the race because the moment I would start to go into cruise control, I knew in a second I would let up, and he would pass me."
Coleman used his speed to his advantage and took the early lead from the start understanding that Cerkowniak might have the stronger legs to take down a tough, hilly 5k race.
Both runners came through their first mile in 5:06 and then headed off into the backwoods where not many spectators could gain access for a little over a mile. When they both returned for their final loop around the park, Coleman had increased his lead by 10 meters on Cerkowniak.
"In the backwoods, there was this hill, and the second I saw it, I just gave it everything I had," said Coleman. "It worked relatively well as I got him a few meters behind me, but I would still look over my shoulder to see if he was close to me."
Coleman would increase his lead even more going up the final hill and would be the eventual difference-maker in the race with less than half a mile to go as he went onto win in a new course record time of 16:07.
Coming into the 2020 cross country season, Coleman had set big goals for his junior year, including a run at a possible individual state championship.
However, due to the cancellation of the state meet this year and the limited amount of traveling every school has in the entire state, the chance to race some of the state's great competition is limited this year. Still, any chance Coleman gets at racing an opponent like Cerkowniak; he's not going to shy away.
"This year, I was training really well throughout corona," said Coleman. "I think we are in one of the fastest states in the USA, and when I get the opportunity to race others, I'll be ready and excited to. I was waiting all week to race Bryce because I love competition."
Cerkowniak finished his second-place time in 16:17 to pick up his first loss of the season after winning his first two races against North Thurston and Capital.
Despite this being his first career loss to Coleman in a cross country race, Cerkowniak praised his opponent for a great overall race.
"Ethan is really good and he's a stud," said Cerkowniak. "He definitely knew where to make his moves since he's familiar with this course, and I was just going off what he did. I just think that was the biggest factor."
Olympia also took the team win by a score of 27-32 with all seven varsity runners finishing in the top 10.
George Merrifield (17:54, 5th), Christian Browne (18:53, 6th), Asher Coppin (19:11, 7th), Danny Pree (19:13, 8th), Riley Smith (19:59, 9th), and Owen Windrope (20:39, 10th) were among those top runners for the Bears.
Yelm's Ryan Lange and Zachary Walsh were third and fourth running 17:50 and 17:52.
On the girl's side, Olympia's Jordan Gram won the individual race in a time of 24:05 and led the Bears to a 22-39 team win over Yelm.
Yelm's top runner was Kya Ramirez with a second-place finish in a time of 24:15.
For more results from the Olympia/Yelm dual, click here.
Here are highlights from the race: