A Camas Papermaker and two Liberty Lions were instrumental in the Evergreen Storm cross country team’s rise to fifth place in the Youth Division of the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championship Dec. 10, on the Whispering Pines Golf Course in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The race featured 261 runners and 23 teams from all over the U.S. Camas High School freshman Alissa Pudlitzke took 35th place, Liberty Middle School eighth-grader Maddie Woodson earned 83rd place and Liberty eighth-grader Alexa Jones grabbed 173rd place. After losing the state and regional titles to Whatcom Tesseract, the Storm finished four places ahead of them at nationals to be the top team from the Northwest Region.
“We couldn’t be more excited for the girls,” said team organizer Scott Slamp. “It was a super competitive field with really fast times and they all PR’d big time.
“Our team doubled in size from last year to this year, but the biggest difference was having more experience,” he added. “We’re also lucky to have so many runners from Camas, and more are on the way.”
Each girl shared a different perspective from the experience.
“There were a ton of people at the starting line, and it was really intense. But once to gun went up, there was complete silence,” Woodson said. “It made me really nervous. I had no idea when that gun was going to go off.”
Once the opening salvo was fired, arms were flapping, legs were pumping and bodies were bumping into each other. It was important to get to the front of the pack. Those who fell behind got left behind.
“I just saw a whole bunch of arms go up, and everyone started sprinting,” Woodson said. “I didn’t want to get caught in the back so I started sprinting.”
Pudlitzke finished about 10 seconds shy of All-American status. Since she had been to nationals before, she expected to get hit by a few elbows in the trenches. She admitted to throwing a few shots of her own to get even.
“It starts off fast, funnels in and gets narrow,” Pudlitzke said. “Girls will do whatever it takes to get a top 25.”
In the midst of such heated competition, it would have been easy to get lost in the shuffle. But these girls thrived under the pressure and enjoyed every minute of it. And together, they rose to the occasion and surpassed the expectations of their coaches.
“The whole experience of nationals is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Jones said. “Everybody there is a top-level athlete, and it’s a place where you can be great. Just to be there with my teammates is something I’ll never forget.”
After only three months of running, Emily Wilson represented the Storm in the Midget Division. The sixth-grader at Skyridge Middle School will join the rest of her teammates in the Youth Division next fall.
“The fact that there was so much competition encourage me to run faster and have a stronger finish,” Wilson said. “I hope I can keep doing this, and keep getting better and better. I have a lot more years to go, but it will be fun.”
Running for the Storm has been Pudlitzke and Alexa Efraimson a leg up in high school. They both look forward to Woodson and Jones joining the Papermaker cross country program next fall. Wilson should also be on board by the time they are seniors.
“It would be great if we could win state again next year,” Pudlitzke said. “I already know we have some amazing freshmen coming up who are prepared to work hard. I know they will be very committed.”
Slamp hopes this turns into something more than just a run through the park.
“I want them to keep loving it and keep on improving,” he said. “If it turns into an opportunity for them to pay for college, that would be pretty special.”