For several weeks, West’s Ashlynn Yokom has been practicing a quick start and a fast pace. If she has had to use the Gator lead vehicle as an incentive to chase, so be it.
But on Saturday, she didn’t have to make up a leader to chase, she had one in amazing Linn-Mar freshman Stephanie Jenks. The top-ranked Jenks led from start to finish to win the Class 4A girls state cross country title in 13 minutes, 42 seconds. Yokom was second in a school-record 14 minutes.
“The last few weeks I’ve really trained to get out faster to prepare for this race,” Yokom said. “I knew there would be a lot of people who wanted to get out quick. Around the mile and a half, I knew I had to keep fighting. I knew I couldn’t back down. This was my last chance to show everyone what I’ve got.”
West coach Mike Parker said Yokom never gave up on winning.
“We had a race strategy and ran it to perfection,” he said. “She made a great charge the last 800 meters. You tip your hat to the girl from Linn-Mar. She was better today.”
Yokom said she expected a fast pace but kept Jenks in view the whole race, not an easy thing to do.
“I just had to keep fighting for that, even if I couldn’t get to her, I had to fight for it,” Yokom said. “I wanted to get her. I always do want to get her; I didn’t want to settle for less.”
Yokom and Dowling’s Karissa Schweizer, a former state champ, went back and forth during the race in the second spot.
“The last 800 I knew I had to go,” Yokom said. “Because I wanted that second place or even first place.”
Jenks said she was unaware of anyone chasing her, although she heard fans yelling for Yokom. She said she’s been a front-runner since she took up the sport. She was also a swimmer on the Lions’ team this season but had to make a choice with state cross country conflicting with regional swimming Saturday.
Yokom has had an outstanding junior season, which she attributed to being healthy, for one, and for having the experience needed to run races.
“I know what I’m doing now with two years of experience,” she said.
West’s team finished sixth. Molly Leveille was next in 22nd, followed by Pombie Silverman 35th, Emmie Skopec 53rd and Maria Burtch 65th.
City High was led by Courtney Bruns, who finished 18th in 14:40. Bruns missed most of the season with illness and only recently began to run again.
“There was a lot of doubt, especially at the beginning, because I wasn’t able to run until, like, September,” Bruns said. “It got to the point where I’m just really thankful to be running and to get here. Happy and really grateful. It was a long summer and tough beginning of the season.”
So with very little competitive running behind her this season she still led her team to its ninth-place finish. She came into the meet ranked 27th in 4A.
“I just had to tell myself that this is my last year, and you always want to do well, but there’s no point if you’re not having fun and not enjoying it,” Bruns said. “It did seem fast, but there’s so much adrenaline so I’m just like ‘go.'”
Also for City High, Ellen Carman was 28th, Lindsey Bruns 29th, Morgan Sammons 54th and Molly Shepherd 71st.