When the starting gun sounded for the 4A boys cross country state championship race at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, Washington, on Nov. 9, Camas High School’s (CHS) runners got off to a quick start.
Evan Jenkins, Sam Geiger, Luc Utheza, Spencer Twyman and Austin Weese all jumped into the lead pack and managed to stay there throughout the race.
“That’s how you usually win cross country races,” Utheza said. “The closer the first person is to the fifth person on the team is usually an indication of winning the race.”
That’s exactly how things turned out for the Papermakers, who placed all five of their runners in the top 30 on their way to winning the first state championship in school history.
“It felt very unreal,” said Jenkins, who finished fourth. “I mean, the first state championship for the boys. It just felt so great that we all had the opportunity.”
Geiger finished right behind Jenkins in sixth place. Utheza, running in just his second race after missing several weeks with a calf injury, finished 16th. Tyman placed 20th and Weese was 29th.
“I was really happy to be back into it, but with me injured, I was worried we might not have enough power to win the state title,” Utheza said. “But Evan and Sam stepped up big time.”
The Papermakers girls came close to matching the boys’ achievement, finishing second in the 4A girls meet as senior Halle Jenkins led the way for CHS with a 12th-place finish.
“(The boys and girls teams) have such a good team dynamic and really care about each other,” CHS coach Laurie Porter said.
The CHS boys overcame adversity on their way to the state title. The Papermakers not only had to overcome nagging injuries, but also a nasty flu bug that hit nearly every runner on the team earlier in the season.
“We were biting our nails all the way through the season,” Porter said.
The CHS girls topped every team except for Redmond High at the 4A state championship meet.
Behind Halle Jenkins, Katelyn Flolo finished 27th and Gracie Buzzell finished 31st. Camryn Mock finished 35th and Bella Distante crossed the line in 40th place.
Aspen Ashcraft, the team’s top runner at the beginning of the season, was injured for most of the year but made a valiant comeback at the state meet, finishing 87th.
“We went into the race not expecting much because after losing Aspen we knew she was not at her full potential,” Jenkins said, “but we worked hard as a team and really pushed each other.”
Before the state championship race, Utheza, the team captain, told his teammates they all needed to stick close together. Every time a Papermakers runner passed a teammate, the teammates tapped each other on the back, a strategy that helped them to motivate each other and find a higher level.
“It’s just a way we let each other know to follow whoever is passing and try to keep up with each other,” Utheza said.
By the time Utheza crossed the finish line, he looked back and saw that Twyman and Weese were right behind him, and that’s when he knew CHS had likely just won the championship.
“Our top five out-competed Mount Tahoma’s top five, and that’s what made the difference,” Utheza said.
CHS also had to deal with the loss of Daniel Maton, who now runs for the University of Washington.
“We all knew we had a shot at winning even without Daniel,” Utheza said, “but we also knew we had our work cut out and had to make sure everyone was on board and knew they had to fight for each other.”
There’s no time to celebrate, however, as the Papermakers will participate in the Nike Cross Regional Northwest race in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday Nov. 16. The top runners from nine western states will compete, with the two top teams advancing to the Nike Cross Nationals meet, to be held Saturday, Dec. 7, at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland.
“We have to keep this rolling,” Porter said.
Utheza said that because he’s so focused on getting the team ready for the upcoming race, the fact that he and his teammates are state champions has yet to set in.
“It’s fantastic, of course,” he said, “but it really hasn’t registered with me yet that we are the first boys team to ever win state for Camas cross country.”