TACOMA -- As far as Alexa Efraimson is concerned, Friday's preliminary race could not have gone any better.
"I wanted to qualify, but I wanted to be sure I could run my best race tomorrow," the Camas freshman said.
Efraimson coasted to victory in her heat of the Class 3A girls 800 meters at the state track meet, setting up a showdown in Saturday's final. Efraimson is expected to run up front with Amy-Eloise Neale from Glacier Peak of Snohomish, bringing together two of the best middle-distance runners in the nation.
According to marks posted on athletic.net, Efraimson has the seventh-best time in the country this year in the 800; Neale ranks 12th.
Which made Friday's prelims the appetizer before a gourmet meal.
"She's a great competitor," Efraimson said of Neale. "It makes it a bigger race knowing that I'll be able to push myself."
Neale won her heat Friday in 2:14.40, pushed throughout by Lynelle Decker from Mountain View. Efraimson won her heat in 2:16.83, well off her season best of 2:08.92.
A year ago, Neale ranked in the top 10 nationally in both the 1,600 and the 3,200 and won state titles in both events. She then represented the United States in the steeplechase at the World Youth Championships in Lille Métropole, France.
This season, she's focusing on the 800.
"I really love speed work," she said. "And I've had a hamstring problem that cut back on my training. I was feeling the hamstring today, but it should be OK."