BROOKLYN — CarLee Stimpfel and Yami Albrecht can thank each other, at least in some small way, for contributing to each runner’s second consecutive cross country state championship.
Having a pair of runners that are separated by just 17 miles of M-81 — Stimpfel at Cass City and Albrecht for Caro — win state titles in back-to-back years marks the first such time that’s been accomplished in Tuscola County history.
Albrecht was the Division 3 race winner in a time of 15:44.7, while Stimpfel was the Division 4 winner with a time of 16:07.1. The state meet took place Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.
Stimpfel capped off his high school career on the highest of notes as a senior, while Albrecht, a junior, has the potential for a rare third straight state title that he’ll enter next year as the favorite to win.
They went 1-1 against each other during the regular season in what was a fitting end to the friendly geographical rivalry, at least at the high school level. Stimpfel and Albrecht have dueled over the previous two cross country seasons as well, with the high-profile matchups requiring both to be at their absolute best.
For their part, both the Tigers and Red Hawks runners can appreciate their historical link.
“He’s an amazing runner, and he’s just a junior,” said Stimpfel of Albrecht. “He’s a really good guy; we’re friends at meets.
“I was hoping he’d repeat, and come back and show why he won it last year.”
Albrecht was equally complimentary of Stimpfel.
“I want to race against the best, and he’s one of the best around,” said Albrecht of Stimpfel. “It’s nice to have that guy next door you can race against a couple times a year.
“I love running against him, and I know people like watching us race.”
Stimpfel was just pleased to be at full strength after rehabilitation for piriformis syndrome that was the result of an earlier season injury. Piriformis syndrome is defined as a disorder in which the piriformis muscle in the buttocks irritates the sciatic nerve.
“It was a very big concern, because it felt pretty bad to me, and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Stimpfel of the setback. “I struggled through that for two weeks before rehab for about a month.
“I’m still going through rehab, but I’m happy I was healed enough to be able to run again.”
A big sigh of relief is in order after winning a race with such high stakes.
“Even if you won it last year, you’ve still got to show up,” said Stimpfel. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it.
“There are very few guys who can say that they’ve won back-to-back state championships, and it’s an amazing feeling,” he added. “Everyone was gunning for me this year, and in the back of your mind you’re always thinking about the state meet, and trying to get everything right to peak at that time. It felt good to get the job done.”
Albrecht said he feels the pressure to perform, and responds positively to the challenge.
“When you’ve got a target on your back, that pushes you even more, and that’s how it’s worked out for me,” said Albrecht. “I started out a little sluggish, but picked it up mid-season, and have been running in the 15s since.
“I felt pretty strong and confident coming in, and I was a lot more relaxed this year than last year,” he added. “I’m thankful to win (the state title).”
It’s no secret now that Albrecht is eyeing a three-peat.
“When you’ve won it two years in a row, why not try and win it again, so I’m going for it,” he said. “But I can’t just lay back and expect to win it; I’m going to have to work for it.
“If you put in the work, you see the results.”