CAMAS — They were a good cross country team as soon as the season began with training in August.
They became an exceptional squad with a trip to Yakima for an unorthodox meet.
This week, the Camas girls cross country team is ranked 10th in the Northwest region — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska — heading into Washington’s postseason.
The Class 3A district meet is Thursday at Lewisville Park in Battle Ground.
From there, it’s off to regionals and then state.
In front of the Papermakers are a lot of goals to chase down in the next few weeks.
“At least top three in state,” senior Austen Reiter said. “Our optimistic goal would be to see if we could win it.”
“If we all have a good day on the same day, we have the potential to do it,” senior Lindsay Wourms said. “Looking at the times and stuff, it is doable.”
It is not just a dream anymore, a wouldn’t-it-be-cool type of thing. The Papermakers realized it was possible when they finished second to Glacier Peak of Snohomish at the Sunfair Meet in Yakima on Oct. 1. Those same rankings that have Camas No. 10 in the region — ESPN Rise — has Glacier Peak at No. 12 in the nation.
Sunfair is different from the traditional cross country meet in that there are seven races — with each team’s No. 7 runners competing against each other first, followed by the 6s, 5s, and so on until the No. 1 runners are on the course.
Camas coach Mike Hickey said the Papermakers maxed out, rising to the competition.
“Everyone had a great day on the same day,” he said.
There’s that philosophy again. The Papermakers are looking for such consistency in these next three competitions. It all started in Yakima.
“Each person on our team set the bar a lot higher,” Reiter said. “Our No. 6 could see how hard our 7 was working, and that inspired (No. 6) to run well.”
Also, each runner had her entire team cheering her on during the race. In a traditional meet, the Nos. 1 and 2 runners have no idea how the 3, 4, or 5 runners are faring. But at Sunfair, it is a team lovefest.”
No one wanted to let the other down.
“It made us realize our potential, and we remembered what it felt like to run for your team,” Reiter said.
The team thing is a big deal to the Papermakers. The seniors set the tone early, to provide a model for the younger runners. The hope is next year’s seniors will keep up with the routine.
“Me and Austen have been part of this for four years, watching it grow,” Wourms said. “We have definitely seen all the changes to make it happen, to make us better, faster, and more competitive as a team.”
“We kept up a lot of our traditions,” Reiter added. “We really make an effort to bond with everyone and talk with each other.”
Wearing their puff paint T-shirt for a warm-up prior to a meet, the Papermakers talk about their goals. After a race, they all run together in the cool-down, talking about how each of them performed.
“We’re very involved with how each person is doing,” Reiter said.
“That helps us hold each other accountable, too,” Wourms said.
Freshman Alexa Efraimson is the team’s No. 1 runner. She recalled how easy the older athletes made her transition from middle school to high school.
“It was welcoming. They made sure everybody knew each other’s names,” Efraimson said. “I felt really welcomed when I came in. I’d be talked to by the seniors, rather than just hanging out with Alissa.”
She meant that with no offense toward Alissa Pudlitzke, another freshman. Efraimson was just afraid she and Pudlitzke would be outsiders this season. No way, not with this team. Junior Megan Napier and Cami Parsons — a former soccer player — and sophomore Trisha Patterson complete the Camas Seven.
Hickey likes to point out that Parsons finished eighth in the state as a sophomore in the 3,200 meters in track season. Currently, she is No. 6 on the Camas cross country team — more proof of the talent in this group.
Then there’s that ranking. Really, there is good and bad with the ranking, Hickey said.
“They really don’t mean anything,” Hickey said of the ranking.
But then he hedges.
“It’s gratifying. The girls know all the hard work they’ve put in and they’re getting a little recognition,” Hickey said.
Still, this week begins the stretch when only the performances count.
Thursday is not an automatic for the Papermakers. Prairie, led by Nicole Goecke, Taylor Guenther and Lindsay Tompkins, also is strong team capable of winning district.
Camas topped Prairie in the regular season, but it was a close meet in which one runner’s performance could have swung the met.
Plus, Hickey said both teams should be improved since then.
“They have a very tough-minded group of girls, and we have very tough-minded, competitive girls,” Hickey said.
That could make for quite a test Thursday, but it’s just one of three steps in the postseason.
By Nov. 5, the Camas Papermakers hope to have climbed to the top, with every runner having her best day on the same day.