Before the first cross country race of his life, Yami Albrecht stepped to the starting line without much of a plan.
Then a freshman at Caro, Albrecht knew he could run, but didn’t know how to pace himself over the course of a 5K or what type of strategy to employ other than “follow Zak.”
“During the race, I didn’t know what I was doing and thought that maybe cross country wasn’t for me, because I was dead tired in that race,” Albrecht said. “Zak Drews was my teammate at that point, we had trained together all summer and I was always right behind him in the workouts. So that was my expectation, to stay behind him. I did that until after the first mile, then I broke down a little bit.”
Two years, several wins and an MHSAA championship later, everyone is following Yami, and the junior is working to make sure it stays that way.
“Obviously I want to win more, but it pushes me to train harder,” said Albrecht, the reigning Lower Peninsula Division 3 champion. “In my training, I think about how people have a target on me now. I have to train that much harder if I want to be a state champ again. It’s definitely not a guarantee that just because I won last year that I’ll do it again.”
Albrecht’s talent was noticeable long before he ran that first cross country race in the late summer of 2015.
“I knew he was going to be good,” Caro coach Jeff Schember said. “He came over (from Ethiopia) in second grade, and I’m an elementary teacher, so I knew right away when I saw him in second grade that he was something special. I would throw a soccer ball on the field and nobody could catch him to take it away from him.”
Albrecht was born in Ethiopia and adopted at the age of 7. Sports were a way for him to connect to his new classmates.
“When I first came here, my first love was soccer,” he said. “I love sports, and that’s what I did, that’s how I met most of my friends. At recess, we would play basketball and soccer. It just went on from there.”
As a middle schooler, Albrecht ran track, where his mix of speed and endurance translated into plenty of success. In the fall, he wasn’t running on a cross country course, but rather a football field, where he was excelling as a running back.
He decided not to continue with football in high school, however, and cross country was a natural fit.
“It was well established that he was pretty athletic,” Schember said. “But we didn’t know how good he would be because he had never trained. He just came out and tried it, and after our first cross country meet his teammate beat him and he placed (fifth) and he was like, ‘Man, what did I get myself into?’ He’s ultra-competitive, but he’s coachable and he listens.”
Albrecht dazzled his freshman year, even while figuring the sport out. The fifth-place finish in that first meet was tied for his lowest of the season until he went to the Division 3 Final, where he finished eighth, securing an all-state honor.
As a sophomore, Albrecht said, he started to figure out racing even more. He proved it by never finishing worse than fourth and winning the Division 3 title with a personal best time of 15 minutes, 47.4 seconds.
He opened his junior season Aug. 24 by cruising to a victory at the Mike Jackson Memorial Meet at Croswell-Lexington – the same race in which he made his high school debut – in 16:16.4, more than 40 seconds faster than he crossed in the same race a year ago.
That type of improvement, mixed with the success he’s already had, should lead to plenty of opportunities at the college level for Albrecht, who has already had interest from several schools, including University of Nebraska.
“I want to run at the next level, for sure,” he said. “I always thought about it, but I wasn’t sure how big I would make it as a freshman or sophomore, or even now. I for sure want to run in college, though.”
Before he leaves, however, Albrecht wants to bring more than an individual title to Caro, which finished fifth as a team in LPD3 in 2016.
“It can be a lot more fun winning it as a team,” he said. “It’s not just me having the joy of winning, it’s the whole team, so it’s a lot better that way. In our practice, even when the coaches tell us to go easy, the four juniors, obviously our pace is a little faster. But the freshmen always want to stick with us, and to see that from them is great.”
Keeping up might be difficult, but trying to stick with Albrecht could definitely pay off in the long run for the younger Tigers.
“When you’ve got a kid like that, a special talent like that, it does elevate everyone else around them,” Schember said. “He’s such a team player. He’s won his state title, now he’s focused on getting his teammates a state title. It’s fun when you’re sharing rather than just being an individual. He’s definitely a team player. It’s exciting.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Caro's Yami Albrecht sets the pace at Thursday's Mike Jackson Memorial Meet at Croswell-Lexington. (Middle) Albrecht is the reigning champion in Lower Peninsula Division 3. (Photos by Mark Rummel.)