Leading up to her ninth-grade year Ashlynn Yokom wasn’t even sure if she wanted to go out for cross country.
Four years later, the West High senior can’t imagine what her life would be like without it.
“I went out for cross country in eighth grade, but I really only wanted to do track,” Yokom said. “I really didn’t like running the long distances, but when I went out for cross country in ninth grade, I really got into it, and ever since then I’ve kind of had a passion for it.”
Yokom capped a brilliant high school career with her second consecutive top-five finish at the state cross country meet in Fort Dodge in November.
Following a runner-up finish as a junior, Yokom finished fifth in the Class 4A race at the state meet this season in a time of 14:33.
For her accomplishments Yokom has been named the 2013 Press-Citizen Girls Cross-Country Athlete of the Year.
“As a freshman, I had no idea what I was capable of or if I wanted to do this,” Yokom said. “So it’s crazy to look back and think that I’ve gotten this far.”
Yokom’s cross country career almost never got started, but once it did, it never slowed down.
She was the only freshman to make the varsity team in her first year at West High and finished 36th as an individual at the state meet that season.
Yokom finished 37th at the state meet during her sophomore year before breaking through as a junior last season, when she finished runner-up at the state meet.
“My entire career from when I started running to now it definitely went the way I wanted it to,” Yokom said. “It’s amazing to look back at it.”
Yokom followed up her impressive junior season with an even more dominant senior campaign.
The senior won the Mississippi Valley Conference Mississippi division meet, setting a course record with a time of 14:07 at the Ashton Cross County course and earning conference athlete of the year honors.
Yokom then won the state regional qualifying meet with a time of 14:24 before notching her fifth-place finish at state.
The fifth-place finish at state came after Yokom was tripped in the opening 500 meters, spiking herself in the leg as she ended up dropping to her knees.
Despite the early setback, Yokom still managed to finish fifth in a time of 14:33 as West High finished seventh in the team standings.
“It disappoints me, but it was a great opportunity for me to be at state in the first place and to place in the top five and qualify with my team,” Yokom said of her performance at the state meet. “That is just something that you kind of keep with you for the rest of your life: No matter how bad the race was, I got up and still did good.”
Yokom was the leader of a West High team that had more freshmen (3) than seniors (2) competing at the state meet.
As the only freshman on varsity during her first season, Yokom developed a close bond with the three West High ninth-graders.
“I’ve always told them to never be afraid to be better than a veteran, don’t be afraid to beat a senior or beat someone that is better than you,” Yokom said. “If you are capable of doing it, do it because in the long run we want it more for our team. So I’ve always told them, ‘Be the best you can be no matter what.’ “
After the decision to go out for cross country changed her life, Yokom made the decision to continue her cross country career in college.
Yokom will compete for the University of Missouri-Columbia next fall.
“I wanted to stay in the Midwest so I could be around my family, and I liked the coach and feel comfortable there,” Yokom said. “I get to keep continuing doing what I love, and I’m excited to start with a new team even though I don’t want to leave this team behind.”