Efraimson, Camas girls take titles at state cross country

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PASCO -- At any given meet, the Camas girls cross country team wants all its runners to have their best day on the same day.

That happened Saturday at the Class 4A state cross country championships in Pasco, as the Papermakers cruised to the state team title.

Alexa Efraimson was the exclamation point on the effort, winning the individual title by a comfortable margin in 17 minutes, 34.2 seconds.

"It sort of proves how hard I've trained and how hard the team has trained," she said. "It's definitely satisfying. All this hard work over the summer has paid off. The team has trained so hard."

Efraimson went to the front immediately, and really kicked into high gear at the 1-mile mark. Her teammates similarly went out fast, as all five scoring runners were in the top eight after the first mile.

"We went out hard," said Alissa Pudlitzke, who took fifth. "The whole team pulled it together today and went all out."

The plan for the Papermakers was a bit more conservative, but coach Mike Hickey has preached dynamic racing throughout the season so he wasn't too worried.

"I wasn't concerned," he said. "It's not a hard and fast race plan. They came through. We talked about going out and running our best and they did. It's humbling to watch these guys race."

In the hunt with Camas was Union's Alexis Fuller, who took third place in 18:16.8.

"It was hard because the leader was so far out there, but I tried to stay ahead of the girl I was running with," she said. "I'm excited. It was a good season."

Skyview's Colby Gilbert and Washougal's Sean Eustis also capped strong seasons with big finishing kicks.

Gilbert chewed up a big gap to force his way into the lead pack and finish in third place in the Class 4A boys race, finishing in 15:21.6. At the 2-mile mark there was clear separation between him and the top five, but he didn't change his plan and eventually chased them down.

"I knew I had to stay back, had to start controlled," he said. "Stay solid in the middle and go hard at the end. I'm pretty happy with it. I'm satisfied."

Battle Ground's Mark Tedder finished eighth in 15:39.

Eustis, on the other hand, seemed genuinely shocked that he had put together his kick and was constantly overcome with emotion after the race.

He was in sixth place with a half mile left, but roared down the final two hills to take fourth place in 15:39.7. Last year he took ninth.

His teammate, Isaac Stinchfield, placed ninth in 15:49.

"It means a lot to me," he said. "I didn't think I'd be able to go. With 200 meters I just took off. I think I executed everything perfectly. I went out with the right pack, and it was just a really good day for me.

"This was my ultimate race."

The same could be said for Efraimson, who spent last year challenging the state's best in Glacier Peak's Amy-Eloise Neale and North Central's Katie Knight in the 3A race. With Camas' move to the 4A classification, though, Efraimson was the clear favorite on this day and she lived up to it.

With defending 4A champion Jordan McPhee of Mount Rainier hanging in her rearview mirror after the first mile, Efraimson went into a higher gear and cruised to the title. McPhee finished nearly 40 seconds behind her.

"I was like, 'I've got to start kicking,' " she said. "I felt like I could push on and that's what I did. It feels so good. I'm just so happy right now."

As was her team, as the Papermakers won a second consecutive state title. They edged past Glacier Peak in 2011 for the 3A title, but had no such problems this season, crushing Tahoma by 53 points.

"There were different expectations last year," Hickey said. "We were the hunters and let Glacier Peak set the tone. This year, the confidence with this group is impressive."

Elsewhere, Prairie's girls team took fourth in the team race led by Nicole Goecke's seventh-place finish (18:53). The Columbia River boys finished eighth.

In Class 1A, the La Center boys placed sixth, while the girls were 10th.