YAKIMA, WA - It had been 379 days since the state cross country championship race took place in Washington, and it was also the last organized high school race in Washington for both cross country and track to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
This past Saturday, November 21, 2020, cross country made its return once again in Washington.
With under 100 high school kids gathered in Yakima at the SOZO Athletic Complex for an unattached 5k race, the Yakima XC Meet of Champions showcased some of the best athletes from around the state in the boy's and girl's races.
Sydney Collier of Cascade Striders from Bellevue came away with the win in the girl's race running a personal best time of 19:02 in her high school, big meet racing debut.
Meridian's Kayla Aalpoel, who was 12th last fall at the 1A state cross country championships, was second overall running 19:39. Lewis and Clark's Audrey Thronson was third running 19:53, 27 seconds off her personal best mark from the 4A state cross country meet.
Despite the loss of a season, Aalpoel feels this the best training she has ever done and believes her fitness level is going in the right direction heading into the spring.
"This fall hasn't been tough on me," said Aalpoel. "I've been training a lot and keeping active because I'm thinking about the hopeful season further along and continuing my journey to success."
Last falls 4A state cross country runner-up, Natalie Ruzauskas of Richland, finished fifth overall in a time of 20:05. Ferndale's Jaclyn Denham trailed by two seconds finishing in sixth running 20:07.
Asotin's Chloe Overberg placed seventh running a time of 20:17.
This was Overberg's first cross country race since her freshman year when she placed fifth at the 1B/2B cross country state championships, so she was very excited to get back out running again.
"It felt really good to get back to racing and pushing myself," said Overberg. "This fall has been challenging, but it's giving me time to get some good base-training in for the spring."
Other state podium placers from last fall finishing in the top 10 were Ellensburg's Kate Laurent (4th, 2A) placing eighth running 20:18, and Kamiak's Emma Arceo (15th, 3A) placing ninth running 20:36.
On the boy's side, Keller Norland of Timberhill Harriers won the individual title running a time of 15:49.
Sehome's Zack Munson was second overall running 16:03, and Wyatt Mortenson finished in third running 16:10.
William Schneider of Bishop Blanchet, a seventh-place finisher at last falls 3A state cross country championships, finished fourth running 16:15. Steilacoom's Swayer Dagan, a fifth-place finisher at last falls 2A state cross country championships, came in fifth running 16:17.
Kamiak's Carp Mukai was sixth running 16:22, Gonzaga Prep's Jacob McIntyre was seventh running 16:33, and Central Valley's Alex Wright was eighth running 16:37.
Mukai has shown vast improvement this fall from running 16:11 as a junior to 15:28 this fall as a senior. His success in the COVID times: running over 600 miles in the summer and training with one of the state's best programs.
"Running those miles this summer was a big jump from all the other years," said Mukai. "Along with training with my team, I've also been training with Henry Jackson, and I think it's benefited all of us. It's made me a lot more confident as a racer."
Jackson's Jordan Hansen rounded out the top 10 in a time of 16:45.
Before this meet, Hansen has been having an incredible fall season of training and even threw down a personal best time of 15:08 in early November, putting himself in the conversation to be one of the top runners at the 4A level this spring.
"My Jackson teammates and I have been training like a normal cross country season," said Hansen. "That's why I was in pretty good shape in mid-October, although my legs definitely felt 'shot' after the 5k efforts a few weeks ago. We will start building back up again in December and January to get ready for the cross season in March."
The 2021 cross country season is set to begin on March 15 with the state championships held in late April, early May.
For more results from the Yakima XC Meet of Champions, click here.
For more photos from the Yakima XC Meet of Champions, click here.
*Those interested in purchasing photos, contact Keenan Gray via email: Keenangray05@gmail.com.