Talent abundant, challenge intense

Only one blemish mars Yon Yilma’s 2007 cross country resume, but this weekend he can make up for that lone setback.

Yilma, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, is considered among the top contenders in the Class 4A boys race Saturday during the state cross country championships in Pasco. Coming off impressive victories at the divisional and district meets, Yilma will battle dozens of other highly touted competitors at Sun Willows Golf Course, including the lone runner to finish a race before him this fall.

Gig Harbor senior Miles Unterreiner outdueled Yilma for first place Sept. 15 at the South Whidbey Invite. It wasn’t close, actually. Unterreiner set a blazing pace and completed the 5-kilometer course in a course-record time (15 minutes, 18 seconds), 19 seconds faster than Yilma.

Since then, both runners have consistently dominated their respective competition. Can Yilma outlast Unterreiner Saturday in Round 2?

“It comes down to who’s on and who wants it most,” Edmonds-Woodway coach Regina Joyce said. “I know Yon really wants it, and I hope he can do it.”

Yilma, who on Wednesday said he is close to making a verbal commitment to run next year for Arizona State University, isn’t shy about his aspirations.

“I need this last win,” he said.

But other talented boys, including two local runners, could spoil his plan. Kyle King (Oak Harbor) and Joey Bywater (Lake Stevens) have both won multiple state championships in track and finished just three seconds behind Yilma at the district meet.

“All three of those guys should be in contention,” Joyce said.

“They all have strengths,” Marysville-Pilchuck coach Randall Edens said, “and it should be a lot of fun.”

Bywater was the 4A cross country runner-up last year, and King has come on strong after placing 35th in 2006. Snohomish coach Dan Parker said the biggest surprise has been King, who attends 1A Coupeville but runs cross country for Oak Harbor because Coupeville doesn’t have a program.

“Yilma is running worlds better than he was last year,” Parker added. “He’s taken it to a second level. But I would take a healthy Bywater any day.”

Bywater has been limited by a foot injury the past month.

Coach Parker’s Snohomish boys team is also a title contender. Ranked No. 2 in the current Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association 4A poll, the Panthers will take on a balanced field that includes No. 1 Mead. A Snohomish boys squad last won a state team crown in 1965, according to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association records.

“It’s wide open this year — more wide open than it’s been in the past,” Parker said. “This year, teams are fairly equal and I figure more than any other year it’s anyone’s ball game.”

Here are other local runners to watch out for Saturday:

4A girls

Fourth-ranked Snohomish is led by senior Ellie Bonner, who last Saturday rallied late to win the District 1 race. Bonner is the top local returnee based on her 21st-place finish at state in 2006.

A few of her Western Conference rivals, including Monroe’s Lyndy Davis (30th last year) and Haley Nemra of No. 10 Marysville-Pilchuck, could challenge for a top-10 showing.

3A boys

Coming off a triumph at the District 1 championships, the Everett boys squad is aiming for another top-10 team performance, Seagulls coach Bruce Overstreet said. Everett is fueled by district champion Cody MacDougall and senior captain Arian Anderson. MacDougall, a sophomore, and Anderson were Everett’s third- and fourth-fastest runners last year when the Seagulls placed 10th.

Arlington senior Paul Simbeck, the district runner-up, appears to have a shot at a top-15 individual finish, which would be a huge improvement on his 77th-place effort a year ago.

2A boys and girls

The third-ranked Lakewood boys will try for the second straight weekend to keep up with district rivals Sehome (No. 1) and Burlington-Edison (No. 2). Lakewood junior Nick Devier, who has shown great potential this season, is the Cougars’ top runner.

For the 2A girls, Cedarcrest (No. 3) and South Whidbey (No. 4) could capture team trophies. Cedarcrest ran surprisingly well last week; Whidbey struggled but has a final opportunity to bounce back.

1A girls and boys

A second consecutive state title is well within reach for the top-ranked King’s girls team. The Knights return their top six runners from last year, and junior Olivia Thomas (second in 2006) could step to the top of the podium this time.

Among 1A boys, King’s junior Brandon Dean was second in the District 1-3 race. His time (16:38) is 78 seconds faster than the one he ran last year at state, when he finished 22nd.

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