All season, Amelia Pullen’s cross country teammates have repeatedly told anyone who asks that no one works harder in practice or in competition than the Washougal High senior.
During the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) 2A State Cross Country Championships, held Saturday, Nov. 3, Pullen showed the best runners in the state what hard work can do — not only winning the race by a remarkable 30 seconds, but also pushing herself to a new personal record.
“That final stretch, when you see the finish line, looks easy. But it’s not, and I gave it all I have,” Pullen said.
Pullen’s victory is the first individual state cross country championship in the history of Washougal High School. Panther freshman Savea Mansfield finished 22nd in her first year running cross country and Meryl Keeper ran her best race of the year, crossing the finish line in 76th position to help the Washougal girls team place ninth at state.
Washougal head cross country coach Terry Howard said Pullen is a different kind of runner.
“She has an internal drive that most kids don’t have,” Howard said of Pullen. “When she gets into a race, she focuses on what she wants to do, not what others are doing.”
He added that less than 20 percent of the state’s cross country runners set personal records at the state meet because the Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, Washington, is hilly and difficult.
“What she did was amazing,” Howard said of Pullen’s double victory. “She took off from the pack earlier than anticipated, and then Pullen kept pulling away.”
Throughout the season, Pullen has credited her faithful dog, Sienna, for her running success.
“Her dog is probably the best training partner out there,” Howard said.
The two spend lots of time running difficult trails in the Columbia River Gorge.
“She’s always in shape, better than me and that’s what keeps me going,” Pullen said of Sienna. Pullen’s love of animals shines through when she talks about her plans to become a veterinarian. She’s well on her way to her future career goals — the straight-A student is already taking college classes, and will likely graduate from high school with an associate degree.
Other Washougal runners say Pullen’s ability to balance athletics and academics is an inspiration to others on her cross-country team.
“She’s great. She never brags, is always humble and works really hard, especially in school,” Gabriel Dinnel, Washougal’s top runner on the boys cross-country team, said of Pullen. “Watching her blow everybody away at state was really cool.”
Panther boys team takes second place at state
A coaches’ poll had the Washougal boys cross-country team ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season, and the team just missed coming home with the state championship trophy, losing to Sehome High by 14 points.
Dinnel was in the front pack most of the race, and held on for a third-place individual finish.
“I feel pretty good about my performance, but feel I should have been able to hold on a little bit better,” he said. “But overall I’m pretty happy with my effort.”
The Panthers’ Ian Palmer ran the best race of his career, finishing in 21st place. Troy Prince-Butterfield put in a gutsy performance, running on a painful knee and finishing in 51st place.
“He didn’t do as well as he wanted,” Dinnel said of Prince-Butterfield. “Probably shouldn’t even be running on that knee, but he showed up at state and ran his best.”
Junior Jackson Keyser finished 34th, sophomore Jonathon Wells was 40th and Coy Chaston finished 85th, bringing home Washougal’s best-ever second-place team finish at state.
Prior to this historic season, the Panthers’ best finish at state was a fifth-place showing in 1983. Incidentally, one the top runners on that team was Dinnel’s father, Eric Dinnel.
The younger Dinnel’s season is not over yet. His impressive finish at state qualifies him for the elite race in the Nike cross regionals in Boise, Idaho. He’s also been selected for a team representing Washington state that will take on the top high school runners from Oregon at the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon, for an event that’s all about bragging rights, called Border Clash, which is set for Nov. 17.
“It’s a really cool event,” Dinnel said of the Border Clash race. “I’ve gone to watch the past few years and now I get to compete.”