This is a big week for Yosemite High School cross country runner Alek Simpson of Bass Lake. His 17th birthday is Nov. 21 and he will celebrate Thanksgiving with his family Nov. 22 -- But possibly the biggest event for the YHS junior will occur Saturday when he returns to Fresno's Woodward Park for the CIF State Cross Country Meet.
Simpson qualified for the state meet by placing second last Thursday in the Central Section Division III 5K (3.1 miles) with a personal best time of 16:21, 66 seconds faster than the week before when he won the North Sequoia League race.
The 6-foot-1, 140 pound Simpson crossed the finish line 6.2 seconds behind Roosevelt High's Victor Maldonado.
More than 160 runners representing 25 Division III schools from Bakersfield to the most northern school in the section, Yosemite, ran in the race. The majority of schools in Division III have larger enrollments than Yosemite.
"Maldonado got about a 30 yard lead on me at the one mile mark," Simpson said. "At that point I tried to catch him but every time he heard me coming up on him he would speed up."
With about a half mile left in the race, Simpson closed the gap between him and Maldonado to about 15 yards and at 100 yards left in the race, Simpson started his finishing spirit.
"I cut his lead down a little more but then he started his sprint with 60 yards left in the race and I couldn't catch him," Simpson said. "I probably could have ran a little faster but I'm happy with my personal best time and I was glad to save a little for the state meet."
Simpson, as a sophomore last year, placed 81st in the varsity Division III state meet with a time of 16:40.
If Simpson has a 'good' day this Saturday, he should place in the top 50 -- If he has a 'great' day, and hits his goal of breaking 16 minutes, he could find himself in the top 25.
Team finishes third in Valley
Successful teams must have depth, and this year, thanks to experienced runners and the addition of many outstanding soccer, basketball and wrestling athletes, the varsity team finished third at the section meet behind Roosevelt and Ridgeview High of Bakersfield.
The Badgers beat the likes of Edison, Fresno, Lemoore, Foothill and Hanford.
"The Badger men stormed through league and invitational competition with the strongest varsity and junior varsity results in Badger cross country history," coach Ellen Peterson said.
Senior Chris Grant finished in 25th place in the section race with a time of 17.39 -- Junior Issac Soliz finished three seconds behind Grant for 28th place (17:42) and teammate Liam Wormack, also a junior, placed 30th, one second behind Soliz (17.43).
Junior Tristan Webb (86th - 18:44), senior Brian Tenorio (88th - 18:46); and Senior Alex Statkus (94th; 18:54).
In the Reserve 5K Race, Sam Williams (19:59), Carson Burton (20:01); Danny Longcor (20:22); David Nobles (22:54); and Thaddeus Mele ( 25:47) also competed for the Badgers.
Jessica Fine represents Yosemite
In the girls varsity race, Yosemite's freshman Jessica Fine finished a respectful 62nd out of 145 runners from throughout the section with a time of 22:34.
A resident of Bass Lake who attended North Fork Elementary School for 7th and 8th grade after Bass Lake Elementary closed, Fine has been running since fourth grade.
She said she was nervous before the race because she was the only Yosemite girl in the race, but she was OK once the race started.
"Jessica showed a lot of poise and ran a courageous and determined 5K," said Jackson. "I loved watching her navigate new competitive levels with such determination. Her performance was just the beginning of many great races she will have against some of the finest runners in the Valley over the next three years."