YAKIMA, Wash. -- A year after an unprecedented smokeout that pushed the date a week and reduced the field by over half, the Sunfair Invitational returns Saturday for its 40th edition while seeking to regain its status as the Northwest’s biggest and deepest high school cross country race.
Gauging the field, especially on the girls side, that status is well on its way to being restored.
With 71 high schools, 14 middle schools and over 2,000 runners expected to descend on Yakima’s Franklin Park, the Sunfair Invitational will be a showcase for 30 teams ranked in the top 10 of their respective Washington classes, eight teams from British Columbia along with others from Idaho and Oregon.
From the first grade-school race to the final varsity flight, which is actually two races with the elite boys at 3 p.m. followed by the girls at 3:30 — the meet will have races spanning nearly eight hours.
Eisenhower coach Phil English is the meet director and he brings in two state-ranked teams — the boys No. 3 in Class 4A and the girls No. 4 — and they should do well in the trademark seven-deep scoring format.
“We’re not quite back to normal, but we’re fairly close,” English said of Sunfair’s total numbers. “Normally we have 90, 95 teams and now we have a little over 70. But it’s still going to be a typical Sunfair meet with some great competition, particularly for the girls.”
There’s a lot of reasons for that.
In team competition, four of the top five 4A girls teams are entered — Tahoma (2), Camas (3), Eisenhower (4) and Central Valley (5) — and the No. 2 3A squad in Kamiakin. But all of them will have to contend with defending champion and nationally ranked Coeur d’Alene, which had four girls run 18:35 or faster for three miles last Saturday in Montana.
Two years ago, Glacier Peak’s Amy-Eloise Neale — now a freshman at Washington — set a meet record of 17:03 that appeared to be one of those records that would stand for a long, long time. Well, maybe two years.
With the return of Camas comes the return of Alexa Efraimson, who set a Sunfair freshman record when she clocked 17:54 behind Neale in 2011. That was fast, but it was only the beginning. During Efraimson’s sophomore year she went 3-for-3 in 4A state competition, winning the cross country title by 36 seconds and then sweeping the 800 and 1,600 in track. That included a meet record in the 1,600 of 4:39.25.
But again, that was only the beginning.
Last summer, Efraimson rose to the international level and earned the bronze medal in the 1,500 at the World Junior Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. Her best of 4:16.00 ranks fourth in U.S. high school history.
“We thought that course record (of Neale’s) was unassailable at the time, but Efraimson has the credentials to challenge it,” English noted. “What she accomplished at the World Championships, racing right with the Kenyans and Ethiopians, I was incredibly impressed by that. She’s an outstanding talent.”
On the boys side, English welcomes in for the first time Portland’s Central Catholic, which won Oregon’s 6A state team title last year. The Rams are led by Kyle Thompson, who was third at state last year and won it as a sophomore in 2011.
West Valley and Ellensburg, whose boys and girls teams are both state ranked in 2A, will have a meet within a meet against Cedarcrest and Bellingham, who also have boys and girls teams ranked in the top 10.
English said the new pavilion near the finish line at Franklin Park will not change the three-mile course. The first varsity flight starts at noon.