Camas coach Mike Hickey knew for his girls cross country team to beat Glacier Peak of Snohomish — the state’s top-ranked and defending champion — for the 3A state championship Saturday in Pasco, the Papermakers would need all the stars to align.
What he didn’t expect was the kind of day that delivered astronomical results not just for the Camas girls, but for all of Southwest Washington cross country.
The first sign for Camas came Friday when the Papermakers were ranked 25th in the nation in cross country by ESPN Rise, Camas’ debut in the ESPN Rise Top 50.
Buoyed by news of their ranking, the Papermakers went into Saturday’s meet confident that they could challenge Glacier Peak IF everything went Camas’ way.
The next signal came when Camas’ Alexa Efraimson raced across the line third, a great finish for the freshman in her first state meet. More importantly, Efraimson finished ahead of Glacier Peak’s No. 2 runner Katie Bianchini for valuable team points.
Next came senior Austen Reiter and junior Megan Napier placing seventh and eighth overall.
Then there was senior Lindsay Wourms. She entered the final 400 meters trailing two Glacier Peak runners by 15 meters.
“The coaches, we were all just yelling at Lindsay: ‘You gotta pass those white shirts! You gotta pass those white shirts!’ ” said Hickey, referring to the white-shirted Glacier Peak runners.
Wourms did just that, pushing past both Grizzlies to the finish line and providing Camas with the points that would eventually deliver their first state team title in cross country.
If Wourms had been running with — or even ahead of — those Glacier Peak runners, she may have lost the advantage.
Sometimes being the trailing runner down the stretch is the better position. That’s because the race is in front of you. Your motivation is in clear view.
When you’re the lead runner, your main motivation is to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. You have to listen to the cheers of the crowd — which at the state meet is just noise — and you have to imagine that there is someone charging hard behind you.
But imagining something and actually seeing it are two different things. And the only way to see that is to turn your head and look back. And that can cost you valuable time and momentum.
Wourms was in the right spot, and she let her desire and adrenaline carry her past both Glacier Peak runners.
But even with that great finish, the team outcome was still not clear.
“My coaches and me were trying to chart runners as they finished the race, but we were getting conflicting results,” Hickey said. “With so many runners, it was hard to chart. And Glacier Peak and Peninsula (the team Camas beat last week at the regional meet) had really similar uniforms. … So we had no idea if we won. We just knew it was close. When we got the official results, everybody went crazy.”
How close? Well, two points: 58-60. To put that another way, if Napier runs two seconds slower, Camas doesn’t win. If Wourms runs two seconds slower, Camas doesn’t win.
Even freshman Alissa Pudlitzke, who was running with Wourms in pursuit of the two Glacier Peak runners, contributed.
Although Pudlitzke didn’t catch the two Grizzlies, her drive to the finish helped her finish just four seconds behind Wourms. If Pudlitzke runs eight seconds slower, Camas doesn’t win.
“It was a true team effort from top to bottom,” Hickey said.
There was one downside to Camas’ great day. It kind of overshadowed some great performances by other Clark County runners.
Another freshman, Union’s Alexis Fuller, place second in the 4A girls race, which is the highest finish by Clark County runner at state that I can remember.
And then there was Skyview’s Colby Gilbert.
When putting together runners to watch in the meet preview, I did not list Gilbert’s name.
That’s because Gilbert was coming off a 16th-place finish at the regional meet. Normally, a 16th-place regional finish computes into a 40th-place finish at state.
But Gilbert reversed that trend by placing eighth in the 4A boys race in an outstanding time of 15:34.
In the 2A boys race, Washougal junior Sean Eustis placed ninth. That made six top-10 finishes at state by Clark County runners when most seasons we would be hard pressed to get one.
And there were other outstanding team performances. The Prairie girls — a team whose varsity seven included three runners who would probably describe themselves as basketball players first, runners second — placed fifth in the 3A girls race. The Camas boys were sixth, and the Columbia River boys eighth in the 3A meet.
All would normally have drawn headlines from The Columbian in our coverage of the state cross country meet. But this year, the Camas girls stole all the attention, and deservedly so.
Next up for the Camas girls is the Nike Cross Nationals regional meet on Saturday in Boise. If the Papermakers run well there, they will qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals, which will be run on Dec. 3 at Portland Meadows race track.