Panthers are feeding the flames

Washougal runners enter the district meet Saturday, at Lewisville Park

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Washougal juniors Sean Eustis and Isaac Stinchfield were the first two runners to cross the finish line at Thursday’s league championship race in Hockinson, and freshman Karina Miller motored into the top 10.

Head coach Terry Howard says watch out for the Panther hot rods during Saturday’s district championship meet, at Lewisville Park in Battle Ground. Their brand new orange and white jerseys are turning heads as they run by.

“Everybody knows who Washougal is now,” Stinchfield said.

The girls start at 11 a.m., followed by the boys at 11:40. The top three teams and 15 individuals qualify for state Nov. 5, at the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.

“Our aspirations are to get both teams to state,” Howard said. “We know we’re going to have to run our best to get there, and that’s what it’s all about. Our kids are all preparing to run the race of their lives on Saturday.”

Eustis urges his teammates to push the envelope.

“There can be nothing left to give after this race,” he said. “If you want to go to state, it’s going to take guts. Dreams can start it, but guts have to finish it.”

Eustis earned first place at the league run with a time of 16 minutes, 45.7 seconds. Stinchfield was 1.1 second behind, at 16:46.8.

“Sean and I want to go 1-2 at districts and state,” Stinchfield said. “We have this connection when we’re running. Spectators have said they enjoy watching us run because we are pushing each other and helping each other get faster.”

At districts, Eustis and Stinchfield will battle for the lead with Poli Baltazar of Aberdeen.

“He’s the guy we want to catch,” Stinchfield said.

On Sept. 14, Baltazar ran a 15:11 on his home course. It still stands as the fastest time in the state for 2A schools. The best times for Eustis (15:40) and Stinchfield (15:50) came Oct. 15 at Concordia.

“He’s the number-one runner in the state right now. Districts is going to be a huge test for me and Isaac to prove that we belong,” Eustis said. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Miller’s infectious smile could be seen after she notched ninth place at the league race with a time of 22:15.

“I just try to get off to a good start. Once you get to a comfortable pace, just keep with it,” Miller said. “At the end, I don’t think about the pain. I just think about crossing the finish line.”

Getting Kendall Utter healthy is going to be key.

“We hope she can be ready to run her best race of the season, and perhaps her career on Saturday,”