The Camas girls cross country runners carried themselves with confidence and swagger.
That’s how they became state champions.
“Pressure happens when you really want something,” said head coach Mike Hickey. “Our girls stayed very humble and focused. They knew all seven of them had to have a great day on the same day, and they all certainly did. It’s just so cool to see young people flourish in challenging environments.”
Before each race, the coaches saw a determination to win and work hard for it in their eyes. Even when those Papermakers stepped up to the line with 15 of the best teams in the state Saturday, at the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, their look did not change.
That’s why they are the state champions.
“At the starting line, we realized this was it,” said freshman runner Alexa Efraimson. “We were so close to getting the state championship. We just had to go all out and not look back.”
The Camas girls outworked Glacier Peak 58-60 to bring home the state title. Efraimson grabbed third place for the Papermakers, with a time of 17 minutes, 55.9 seconds. North Central’s Katie Knight won state with a time of 17:10.6, and Glacier Peak’s Amy-Elosie Neale took second in 17:28.8.
“Here you had two of the best runners in the state for the last few years going at it with each other, and Alexa comes in right behind them in third as just a freshman,” Hickey said. “What a day. I couldn’t have written it any better.”
Austen Reiter (18:49.5) and Megan Napier (18:51.5) made the day even better for Camas by clinching seventh and eighth place, respectively.
“I had no idea how far we were up in the race,” Reiter said. “Then Megan caught up to me in the last 800 meters and said, ‘come on Austen, let’s get this pack.'”
“Right there, we decided to leave it all on the course and catch every single girl,” Napier said. “It was cool to be able to do that with a teammate. It made me realize that this race was for the team.”
Lindsay Wourms (19:28.7) won an exciting uphill battle with two Glacier Peak girls for 28th place. She surged down the hill and crossed the finish line with her hands in the air.
“Coach yelled at me to catch those runners in white. That’s when I realized it was two Glacier Peak girls,” Wourms said. “I saw them slowing down up the hill, so I just went for it.”
That extra effort by Wourms gave Camas a seven-point swing over Glacier Peak in the final team standings. Alissa Pudlitzke (19;32.6) capped off a perfect day for the Papermakers by placing 33rd. Camille Parsons (19:58.6) and Trisha Patterson (21:18) also ran great races.
The Camas girls then had to play the waiting game at the podium.
“I had a good feeling that we had won,” Wourms said. “I really wanted it to happen.”
“I just kept telling myself we got second place,” Reiter said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.”
The Camas coaches snuck a peek at the final team scores, but they didn’t tell the girls what they saw. They just sat back and watched. Once Glacier Peak was called up for second place, the Camas girls started smiling. Even though they had their sunglasses on, you could see their tears of joy.
“We all sprinted onto the stage with the last bit of effort we had left in our legs,” Wourms said.
“It was great to see the looks on the girls’ faces when they realized what they had accomplished,” said Camas girls coach Chris Gragg. “I’ve been coaching cross country for 13 years, and I’ve never had a team win a state title until now. It just makes me realize and appreciate how rare moments like Saturday really are. It gave me goose bumps.”
So did the celebration afterwards. Back when Reiter and Wourms were freshmen, Hickey promised he would jump into the pond on the golf course when the Camas girls won their first state championship. On Saturday, the seniors said it was time to collect.
“That water was like 30 degrees,” Hickey said. “I jumped in and just about died, but it was worth it.”
Efraimson and Pudlitzke had a freshmen season to remember forever. They both thanked Reiter, Wourms and Napier for never letting them take a minute off from their workouts.
“In the summer, we talked about how great it would be to go to state,” Pudlitzke said. “I’m so glad that they never stopped pushing us. In the end, it was all of our hard work that paid off.”
After the workouts and the races, the Camas girls showed a deep love and respect for each other. That’s why they will always be winners.
“As they started to roll as a team, it no longer mattered who was the first-, second-, third- or fourth-best runner,” said assistant coach Karen Goritsky. “They were all just appreciative of what the other one was doing to help the team.”
It had been four years since a Camas boys cross country team had finished in the top 10 at state. On Saturday, the Papermakers captured sixth place.
Tucker Boyd finished in 44th place, with a time of 16:21.9. Alex Pien (16:25.7) followed in 47th place, Andrew Duffy (16:37.3) notched 53rd, Andrew Kaler (16:53.6) claimed 75th and John Doyle (16:59.4) took 83rd.
“Those five guys just ran their hearts out,” Hickey said. “Tucker Boyd, Alex Pien and Andrew Duffy just hammered it. They were selling out the whole race.”
It was the best finish for the Camas boys since the 2007 team took fourth place at state. It made a special day for the Papermakers even better.
“These boys and girls teams are like my own children,” Hickey said. “I am really proud of all of them. They battled and they struggled, and they persevered and had fun. That’s life, right?”