WASHOUGAL — Cross country is often described as an individual sport.
But any runner who tried to win a state championship by himself might disagree with that assessment.
“Just look at last year’s (Class 2A) state meet,” Washougal coach Terry Howard said. “Of the top 14 runners, there were five pairs of a teammates.”
There were two runners each from White River, Deer Park, Sehome, Cedarcrest and Washougal.
“Sometimes that other person is the catalyst to make sure both runners do what they need to do,” Howard said.
It’s certainly the case at Washougal where seniors Sean Eustis and Isaac Stinchfield are back after top-13 finishes at state last year.
“It’s really helpful to have a training to push you, keep you honest,” Eustis said. “Isaac and I go out and training during the summer — 10, 12, 20 miles, seven days a week.
“And it’s not just in practice. We hang out with each other in school and on weekends. We even went to a running camp together in California this summer.”
It wasn’t always that way for the Panther teammates.
“When we were freshman, Sean was about three minutes ahead of me,” Stinchfield said. “By our sophomore year, it was 11/2 minutes. And then last year, I was running with Sean. It was always a goal of mine to catch up to him.”
In their season-opening meet this season, Stinchfield actually beat Eustis, winning the Saxon XC Invitational in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 15. Stinchfield finished the 5,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 49 seconds. Eustis was third in 15:58.
“The South Salem coach said it was the first time two teammates broke 16 minutes on that course in the same meet in the 38-year history of the meet,” Howard said.
And Eustis was not even at his best that weekend. Eustis suffered what he described as an “over-use” injury, which sidelined him for a few weeks this summer.
“I had never been hurt before, and it was hard to be told you couldn’t do anything for two, three weeks,” Eustis said. “We started practices and Isaac would call me up and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing two-a-days.’ And I was like, ‘That sucks,’ because I couldn’t be out there with him.”
But it is not all work, no play for these teammates.
“We try to have fun,” Stinchfield said. “If we’re at a dual meet that we should win easily, we’re joking. We’ll be on the playground like a couple of little kids.”
Eustis said: “But if we’re at a big invitational, it’s completely different. We’ll put on our headphones, be focused, get in the zone. It’s like, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ “
Eustis and Stinchfield hope to be in the zone Saturday at the Nike Pre-Nationals meet at Portland Meadows, where they will race against some of the best runners in the region.
Eustis, who has received letters from the University of Portland, Gonzaga and Western Washington, has been under the weather this week, but hopes to better for Saturday.
“But I’m not looking to peak this week anyway,” he said.
Instead, Eustis and Stinchfield have their sights on the state meet in November.
“We didn’t run our best race at state last year,” Eustis said. “We got caught behind some runners we shouldn’t have and lost the leaders.”
“But if we do everything we should, there’s no reason why we can’t be in the top five.” said Stinchfield, who has aspirations of running at Brigham Young.
All it will take is a little teamwork.