There’s no delicate way of putting this.
Winning and Fort Vancouver High School are not two things easily linked in the minds of most sports fans in Clark County.
Sure, if you’re talking about individual commitment, overcoming challenges or building community, you can find those stories at Fort.
But wins in the win column? Not so much.
And that’s what makes the story of the Fort Vancouver girls cross country team so fun to tell.
This fall, the Trappers are doing all of the above.
It all starts with their coach, Owen Frasier, who describes himself as a baseball coach who coaches cross country. It’s not a moniker that is difficult to believe when you see him at a meet.
Maybe it’s the fact that he’s wearing jeans. (There is a reason track pants are called track pants.)
Maybe it’s because when talking to his team at the starting line, he tells his runners to “tuck in their jerseys.” (In cross country, they’re called “singlets,” but “shirts” is acceptable.)
I’m guessing Frasier can’t even say the word “fartlek” without giggling. (OK, maybe the threshold on that one is pretty low.)
“When I started this, I’ll admit I didn’t know much about cross country,” Frasier said. “But I was a teacher on campus who could connect with the kids, and maybe get them to come out for cross country.”
That job got easier two years ago when Emily Phelps and Anna Harrison arrived on campus as freshman – two runners who look like they’re in exactly the right place on a cross country course.
But in that first year, the Trapper girls varsity team often consisted of Phelps, Harrison and maybe one other runner – well short of the five needed to have a scoring team.
“It’s a lot nicer to have a close-knit team this season,” Phelps said, “whereas our freshman season, it was kind of (about running as an) individual.”
But the seeds were planted that freshman season.
“We started out with just us two freshman year, and people started seeing that you can do good in cross country,” Harrison said. “They started to join, and so we’ve eventually built it up to what is now. And our team is just rockin’.”
The Trappers opened the league dual-meet season with a win over Hudson’s Bay, then came a win over long-time league power Prairie last week at Lewisville Park. It was the first win over Prairie by a Fort team in a long, long time.
Frasier said Phelps and Harrison have been pivotal in the growth of the Fort program, not just because they’re outstanding runners, but the excitement they bring to the team.
“Those two are all about the team,” Frasier said. “They are two really good runners on their own. I think Emily could be a state champion. But if you talk to her, that’s not her main focus. It’s the team.”
Phelps and Harrison began reaching out to other students at Fort, starting with teammates on the track and field team in the spring.
“Last year in track, we found a couple of girls who running (800 meters) really fast or 400s,” Harrison said. “And we were like ‘hey, you should do cross country.’ And a bunch of 400 runners started running cross country, and they’re like crazy good at it. They just have a natural gift, and we got really lucky to have them, too.”
Helping fellow students find their natural gifts and use them in a forum where they can success. That’s sounds like a winning formula, no matter where you are.
Frasier also enlisted the help of Scott Timmons as an assistant coach. Timmons is the head coach of the Evergreen Storm Track Club in Vancouver.
With a couple of league wins in hand, the Trappers’ next hurdle is getting past traditional power Kelso on Oct. 10. After that, it’s off to district, bi-district and, if everything goes well, state.
“That’s our goal right now,” Phelps said.
With a roster loaded with sophomore and juniors, the future appears bright for the Trapper girls. And behind junior Drew Weber, the Fort boys are trying to find success with the same formula.
Winning and Fort. That doesn’t sound so weird anymore.
“I feel like our program from this point is going to get stronger, and that is really great,” Phelps said.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.