Goecke, Blankenship capture 3A district cross country titles

Prairie standout will be running next year for Oregon State

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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BATTLE GROUND — It will never come this easy in college, but Nicole Goecke will be running for a Pac-12 program because she has made it look so easy in high school.

Goecke, a senior from Prairie, raced her way to her second consecutive Class 3A district girls cross country championship, winning Thursday in record time at Lewisville Park. She finished the 2.9-mile course in 16 minutes, 45 seconds — 99 seconds faster than the second-place finisher.

Her skill and her potential to run even faster gained her plenty of college attention. A couple weeks ago, she told Oregon State she would compete in cross country and track and field for the Beavers.

"It is quite a blessing," Goecke said. "They're building a program, and I want to be a part of that."

Signing day is in February.

In October (and she hopes in November) she is showing everyone how she earned the offer.

Goecke was up by more than a minute at the 2-mile mark, then extended the lead.

This is all by design, getting stronger for the stretch run of a race. Goecke said that has been her weakness in previous years, the final 800 meters of an event.

"I'm just trying to find strength so I can get ready for the bigger meets when I have girls with me," Goecke said.

That would be at regionals and state.

Columbia River's Austin Blankenship, a junior, turned the table on Kelso's Nick Mounier to win the boys race. Mounier beat Blankenship last year.

The Prairie girls and the Columbia River boys won the team titles.

Goecke completed her district career with two third-place finishes and then two individual titles.

"That feels good, but it's kind of sad now," Goecke said. "It's hitting me that this is my last year."

It helps to leave as team champions, too. The Falcons finished 1-2-3 with Goecke, Jamie Ferris, and Michaela Bruns and ended up with 23 points. Mountain View was second at 56 and Columbia River took third at 65. The top three teams and 15 individuals qualified for regionals.

"We all push each other and support each other," Ferris said. "I know if I slow down, Michaela's going to pass me. I have a voice in the back of my head, giving me extra motivation to run for them, knowing they will always be there for me."

Prairie finished fourth in state last year. Ferris said the goal is to be even better this year.

In the boys race, Blankenship was side-by-side with Mounier after the first mile. Blankenship made his move a little later, going into the forest -- the same place Mounier took the lead for good last year.

Blankenship would get the better of Mounier at regionals and state last year, but Mounier beat Blankenship in league this year.

"He's the only rivalry that I have," Blankenship said. "I wasn't going to let him beat me again."

Blankenship finished the course in 15:15, seven seconds ahead of Mounier. Blankenship said he had no idea where Mounier was behind him.

"I run like I'm going to lose, until the very end. You don't know until the race is over," Blankenship said. "Never look back."

Nick McMillan of Columbia River finished third. The Chieftains went 1-3-5-7-9 to take the team title over Kelso 25-36. Mountain View took third at 72.

"The reason I love cross country is the camaraderie. That's why I joined freshman year," said McMillan, now a senior. "That's what cross country is all about, coming together as a team. That's why it means so much."