Just when Sarah Baxter and Elise Cranny thought they were the only ones fighting for the Nike Cross National Championship, Alexa Efraimson left them both out in the cold.
The Camas High School junior beat the two frontrunners to the finish line, with a time of 16 minutes, 50.1 seconds, Saturday, at Portland Meadows. Cranny, of Niwot, Colo., followed in second place (16:53.8) and Baxter, of Simi Valley, Calif., took third place (16:57.8).
A total of 198 high school girls from across the country competed in this 5,000-meter extravaganza. Efraimson added a national title to her state and regional accolades.
“My goal was to max out, do my absolute best and have no regrets,” she said. “I have no regrets. I’m really happy right now.”
Alissa Pudlitzke made it a sweep for Camas when she won the NXN open race with a time of 18:53.
“It was kind of a nice way to end my season,” Pudlitzke said. “I got to watch Alexa run and cheer her on, and then she got to watch me race and cheer me on.”
Baxter, Cranny and Efraimson pushed each other through all the obstacles. Once Efraimson cleared the last set of hay bales and dropped into the down hill section, she made her big move.
“You know that kick that you have, now would be a good time to use it,” she said to herself. “Coming down that back stretch, I thought ‘come on kid, this is your dream.’”
Mike Hickey, Efraimson’s personal coach, said this might have been the best field of athletes he has ever seen in one race. Baxter was the two-time defending NXN champion. She had not lost a race in her high school career until Saturday. Cranny came in as the New Balance Nationals Indoor Champion and the NXN Southwest Regional Champion.
“You could run your best race and still get beat,” Hickey said. “I told her, ‘let’s go out there and give it all you got. If they go out quick, stay with them and don’t let up.’”
Efraimson hung with Baxter and Cranny for the entire race, but she seemed to be slipping away as the three girls approached the final curve toward the finish line. Watching eagerly near the finish line, Hickey could barely stand the tension.
“I closed my eyes and said, ‘that’s the best she’s got. Thanks for this incredible opportunity,’” Hickey said. “And then, I opened my eyes and realized she had a lot more left.”
Efraimson never doubted herself. The battle just added more octane to her explosive kick at the end.
“I just stayed calm under fire and in control,” Efraimson said. “I can’t freak out. I have to stay confident in my abilities.”
She recalled the words her mother, Chantel, said to her before the race. “Alexa, dream big. This is your gift.”
Efraimson put the finishing touches on her glory road. She is the Washington state 4A cross country champion, the Nike Cross Northwest Regional Champion, the Nike Borderclash 13 Champion and now the Nike Cross National Champion.
“Honestly, I’m speechless. I feel so blessed to be a part of her life right now,” Hickey said. “You can’t coach that kind of heart. She’s just an incredible athlete. The best one I have ever coached.”