Alexis Fuller was a Class 4A district champion as a freshman and placed second at the state meet.
Last season, she was second in district and third at state. And the reason for that was Camas' Alexa Efraimson.
And Fuller was OK with that, which is saying a lot considering that the Union junior does not like to lose.
"It's always nice to have someone ahead of me," Fuller said Tuesday after cruising to a 43-second win in Union's dual-meet victory over Skvyew. "It's cool to have someone that fast in your own district. I have the fastest girl in the state in my own district. That's a good thing."
As middle schoolers, Fuller and Efraimson were teammates on the Evergreen Storm running club, pushing each other in workouts and races.
In their high school cross country debut, Fuller edged Efraimson at the wire at the Hudson's Bay Run-A-Ree.
Efraimson would go on to finish third in the Class 3A state meet, while Fuller was the 4A runner-up.
In their sophomore seasons, when reclassification made Camas and Union 4A league rivals, Efraimson took her running to another level, winning the 4A state championship in 17 minutes, 34 seconds. Fuller finished third in 18:16.
"I think it's awesome for her to see what she's been able to do," Fuller said. "We used to be right with each other. And to see how she's grown as a runner, it's crazy to me. But I like to focus on doing my own thing."
For Fuller, her own thing began with a rededication to her offseason training.
"Alexis goes back to visit family in Indiana every summer," Union coach Scott Eschels said. "(Prior to her sophomore season), she came back and said 'well, I didn't do as much running as I should have.' So before last summer, we made out a plan and did a better job of staying in contact. And I think that is paying off."
It also helps that the Union girls cross country team is stronger.
When Fuller was a freshman, she trained with the boys team. But now she has sophomore Cassie McKinney and freshman Allie Connell to push her.
"Cross country is a team sports, and Alexis is a very social creature," Eschels said. "She likes running with the other girls on the team ...
"There are days when Alexis doesn't feel like going hard. But with Cassie there, she'll make her go hard. Alexis can't take an interval off, or a workout off. And that keeps Alexis going because she doesn't like to lose."
Fuller added: "I'm really excited for us this year. We have a really good group of girls, and we're all off to a really good start."
The Union girls will head to the Nike Pre-National meet Saturday at Portland Meadows. And unlike last year, when Fuller ran alone in the elite race while her teammates ran in another division, the Titans will run as a unit on Saturday.
"I'm excited to have the whole team running together this year," Fuller said. "Because, as I recall, it was kind of rough race for me last year."
Girls cross country outlook
RUNNERS TO WATCH
Alexa Efraimson, jr., Camas; Alexis Fuller, jr., Union; Nicole Goecke, sr., Prairie; Alissa Pudlitzke, jr., Camas; Cassie McKinney, so., Union; Marley LeFore, fr., Camas; Maddie Woodson, so., Camas; Bailey Birch, jr., Ridgefield.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
- No. 1: Papermakers going for three: Camas won the Class 3A team state championship in 2011, then followed that up by winning the 4A team title in 2012. The Papermakers are ranked No. 1 again this season and add a solid freshman in Marley LeFore and new coach Laurie Porter to the mix.
- No. 2: Falcons flying high: Led by senior Nicole Goecke, who placed seventh at state, Prairie is aiming for another 3A district title and top-four finish at state.
- No. 3: Finishing kicks: Columbia River returns two runners who competed at the state meet last year. Adding to the Chieftains depth are a couple of former soccer players.
- No. 4: Wildcats running: Junior Katie Whitten leads a talent group of returning runners at La Center after the Wildcats placed 10th at the 1A state meet. La Center is looking for a higher finish in 2013.
- No. 5: Postseason: The 4A district meet will be held Oct. 23 at Lewisville Park; 3A district will follow on Oct. 24. The 4A-3A bi-district meet is Nov. 2. The 2A district meet will be held Nov. 2 at Hockinson Meadows Park. The 1A district meet is Nov. 2 at Lewis River Golf Course in Woodland.