the Nike Cross Nationals meet at Portland Meadows race track on Saturday December 1, 2012. (Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
PORTLAND -- The members of the Camas High School girls cross country team finished the season Saturday arm-in-arm, mud-splashed and full of smiles.
"This season has just been so amazing," sophomore Alissa Pudlitzke said. "It's been long, but it's been fun to spend so much time together and being able to accomplish what we did this year."
What the Papermakers accomplished this season was their second consecutive state team title, this time at Class 4A, last month at the state meet in Pasco.
That marked the official end of the high school season. Since then, the Papermakers have continued to compete as the Camas XC Club all the way to the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday at Portland Meadows race track.
Sophomore Alexa Efraimson, who won the 4A individual state title on Nov. 3 in Pasco, used a late push to finish fourth Saturday at nationals.
It marked a 10-place improvement from last year even though her time of 19 minutes, 24 seconds was more than a minute slower than last year because of the sloppy conditions.
"I really didn't go into this race with any expectations, given the course and with so many great runners," Efraimson said. "I just wanted to run by my best race of the season."
Efraimson ranged between sixth and ninth place for most of the race, but a late push moved her up to fourth, finishing just two seconds behind Katie Knight of Spokane's North Central High School.
Knight was the 3A state runner-up in Pasco behind Amy-Eloise Neal of Snohomish's Glacier Peak High. Neal placed eighth on Saturday in 19:45. Knight and Neal will be teammates for the University of Washington next season.
Sarah Baxter of Simi Valley, Calif., repeated as national champion in 19:17.
In the boys race, Sam Wharton of Tipp City, Ohio, won in 17:06. Seattle Prep's Joe Hardy was fourth in 17:19.
Mike Hickey, Camas High girls cross country coach, was strictly an observer on Saturday, as WIAA rules prohibit coaching in the offseason.
"I was thinking that if Alexa ran a perfect race, she could maybe finish as high as third," Hickey said. "There are some runners here who may be among some of the best high school cross country runners ever. So for her to finish fourth is amazing."
The Camas girls team placed 13th out of the best 22 teams from across the country. Pudlitzke was 58th in 20:55. She was followed by Megan Napier (102nd, 21:47), Maddie Woodson (129th, 22:14), McKenzie Good (170th, 23:08), Camille Parsons (179th, 23:22) and Alexa Jones (193rd, 24:48).
A heavy downpour overnight turned the 5,000-meter course on the infield of the Portland Meadows race track into a quagmire. Many runners wrapped their feet in duct tape to prevent the deep mud from sucking their shoes right off their feet.
"At the start of the race, I tried to find a path on the course that we less muddy to run on," Efraimson said. "But after a while, there was no point."
As Woodson put it: "You just had to embrace the mud."
In the end, the Papermakers embraced each other after a season that included some early season injuries, being forced off their home course by a bear, and team titles in league, district, regionals and state.
"I think the best part of all this was being able to do all we did with your best friends," Efraimson said. "You couldn't ask for anything more."