Alexa Efraimson and Alissa Pudlitzke are in good company.
Efraimson is a Skyridge Skyhawk and Pudlitzke is a Liberty Lion. Both eighth-graders are excited about attending Camas High School next fall, and running together on the cross country team. In the meantime, they are building lifelong friendships on the trails with their Evergreen Storm Track Club teammates.
On Dec. 11 at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala., Efraimson, Pudlitzke, Alexis Fuller, Lexa Howell and Cassie McKinney led the Storm to eighth place at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships.
“My favorite part of the whole trip was running with so many amazing people, and bonding with my team afterwards,” Pudlitzke said.
“We went to Chili’s, out for ice cream, and then we went to the mall,” Efraimson said. “All after finishing the race.”
A total of 26 teams competed in the youth division, for girls born in 1996 and 97. The Storm earned the highest placing for teams that only had a minimum of five runners.
“The opening ceremonies was just like the Olympics,” described Pudlitzke’s mother Gina. “There were athletes and teams coming from 16 different regions.”
The Storm captured the USATF Oregon Association Cross Country Championship Nov. 11, at Oregon City High School. Fuller claimed first place on the 4,000-meter course with a time of 15 minutes, 10.2 seconds. A week later at the same location, five of the 21 girls on the team qualified for the national meet at the Pacific Northwest Regional Championships.
At nationals, Fuller finished in 31st place out of 267 runners with a time of 15:31. Efraimson earned 50th (15:31), McKinney took 63rd (15:45), Howell notched 136th (16:31) and Pudlitzke placed 150th (16:38).
“The course was really hard. I’m so glad that I finished it,” Efraimson said. “There was this giant hill at the end that was just ridiculous.”
The girls navigated the sharp turns along the narrow path, but the gravel underneath their feet made it feel like they were running in dry sand. They were out of breath by the time they got to the hill, but they were also determined to finish strong together.
“I told myself, ‘you’ve already made it this far, just push through it. You can do this,'” Pudlitzke said. “After this hill, you’re done with the race.”
Pudlitzke made the switch from soccer to cross country running this fall. She is not the only one. Evergreen Storm Track Club organizer Scott Slamp said 19 runners on the team are former soccer players.
Efraimson competed in the Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships this past summer, in Sacramento, Calif. She and the Storm earned ninth place in the 800-meter relay and 14th place in the 1,600 relay.
About eight months away from being Papermakers, Efraimson and Pudlitzke will never forget taking the country by storm.
“This has changed me so much. I am no longer afraid to push myself,” Pudlitzke said. “If you do, it hurts. But in the end, it’s worth it.”
“The pain always goes away,” Efraimson added, “but the memories last forever.”