Columbia River cross country runner Austin Blankenship won the Class 3A boys district championship and then the bi-district title this fall for the Chieftains. Interestingly, it was a race that he lost that really stands out.
It was a dual against Kelso, and Nick Mounier edged out Blankenship for the win. But just behind them, the rest of the Chieftains and Hilanders were fighting to the finish line, to determine the team win. With Blankenship already losing, the rest of the Chieftains were going to have to step up for the victory.
"It takes everybody to win, everybody pushing the guy in front of them," Blankenship said. "That really summed it up at that point. Once I knew we won that race, I knew district and bi-district would work out just fine. At that point, I knew that as a team, we were going to be able to come through."
The Chieftains would eventually finish seventh as a team at the Class 3A state championship. Blankenship led the way, taking 20th with a personal-best time on a 5,000-meter course of 15 minutes, 57 seconds.
"Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with the season," Blankenship said.
A junior, Blankenship avenged that loss to Mounier in the regular season to beat him at district. Blankenship won again at bi-district. Then he led the Chieftains to their best team finish at state since the Chieftains finished second in 2001. For all he did, Blankenship is The Columbian's All-Region boys cross country runner of the year.
Blankenship started running in the seventh grade, but only after watching his sister excel. Amanda Blankenship was a standout at La Center and now runs for Whitworth University in Spokane. (The family moved to Vancouver prior to Austin's high school career.)
"My sister was the only one in my family who ran," Austin said. "I was going to play football. She convinced me to do cross country."
Now, it is difficult for him to imagine doing anything else.
"It's probably safe to say it's an addiction right now," Blankenship said. "It helps me in school. It's a natural stress reliever. It's relaxing to just go out and run. I'll probably be running until I can't, until they put me in a wheelchair."
Someone will have to catch him first.
Runner of the year
Austin Blankenship, jr., Columbia River
Blankenship posted the top time of any Clark County runner at the state cross country meet, placing 20th in the 3A meet in 15:57. He was the 3A district and regional champion and the 3A Greater St. Helens League runner of the year.
Rest of All-Region team
JORDON BIGLER, SR., LA CENTER: Bigler was the Trico League champion, the district runner-up and earned a spot on the podium at state with an eighth-place finish (16:25) in the 1A state meet, helping the Wildcats finish second as a team.
JAMES BREEN, SR., HERITAGE: The first-team all-4A GSHL pick was third at the Hudson’s Bay Run-A-Ree, fifth at the district meet and finished the 4A state meet in a time of 16:29.
CHANCE GILBERT, FR., SKYVIEW: The freshman made a big surge late in the season to finish third at the 4A district meet to help Skyview take the team title, then finished state at 16:13. He was a first-team all-league pick.
KADEN HARBERTSON, JR., SKYVIEW: Harbertson was the 4A GSHL runner of the year and the 4A district champion. He won the Hudson’s Bay Run-A-Ree and placed 33rd at state in a time of 16:04.
RILEY HEIN, SR., CAMAS: Hein placed third at the Pier Park Invitational and the Division I race at the Nike Pre-Nationals. He was the district runner-up, placed ninth at regionals at posted the fastest local time at the 4A state meet (16:00).
IAN ROSE, SO., COLUMBIA RIVER: A first-team all-3A GSHL pick, Rose placed fifth in the 3A district meet, sixth at the 3A regionals and was River’s No. 2 runner at state (16:23), helping the Chieftains to their best finish in a dozen years.