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Efraimson Wins Nike Cross Nationals

Kai Wilmot prevailed in the boy's race.

Kai Wilmot prevailed in the boy’s race.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

It was a Washington State sweep at the 10th edition of Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., as Alexa Efraimson and Kai Wilmot prevailed in 16:50.1 and 15:00, respectively. While Efraimson came from behind with a fierce kick in the girls race, Wilmot ran away from the field in the final mile of the boys contest.

Efraimson Wins With Historic Finish

In what may go down as the best girls race in Nike Cross Nationals history, Alexa Efraimson overtook two-time champion Sarah Baxter and Colorado’s Elise Cranny in the final straightaway to earn the 2013 NXN individual title at Portland Meadows Race Track.

“I’m like still in shock,” Efraimson told NXN webcast commentator Toni Reavis on the awards podium. “I’m sorta dead [tired] right now.”

As was expected, all three pre-race favorites in Efraimson, Baxter, and Cranny established themselves up front within the race’s first kilometer. Three abreast through the early stages of the race, it appeared that the trio were racing comfortably despite the below freezing temperatures and howling winds.

Gradually as the race progressed, the University of Oregon-bound Baxter found herself pushing the pace. Half a step ahead of Cranny and Efraimson, Baxter led through three kilometers in 9:57.9.

“We were running in a really tight pack which was really nice,” said Cranny, the New Balance Nationals Indoor mile record holder who is coached by elite marathoner Jason Hartmann.

Over the final two kilometers, it looked like Efraimson would be the first to fall off the pace. The senior faded a few steps behind Cranny and Baxter, then come back to their shoulders multiple times. Over the famed “woop-de-doo” hills with less than a mile left, Efraimson lost a bit of ground once again.

“I was just telling myself that I can’t let the gaps open up and that I needed to start kicking, and I couldn’t just wait,” Efraimson said.

As the finish came into sight, Efraimson did just what she was thinking: unleashed a memorable final sprint. Sitting four steps adrift of second placer Cranny — and with Baxter three additional steps ahead of her — Efraimson made the decision to go. Increasing her turnover and bursting, arms pumping furiously, the 16-year-old went from third to first in a matter of seconds.

Moments later, she would finish first in 16:50.1

“I guess I was just starting to fall back and getting tired like everybody does. I just knew that with 400 to go I needed to start closing it,” said the champion.

Efraimson’s burst to the front took all by surprise.

“I wasn’t ready for Alexa’s move at the end. I kinda thought she was dropping off,” said Cranny, who overtook Baxter for second in 16:53.8. “When she came flying by me I was like ‘Oh my gosh!'”

Baxter was pleased with the effort she gave, winding up third in 16:57.8.

“I could barely stand up at the end of the race so I know I did all I could,” she said.

In the team standings, it was Wayzata of Minnesota taking down seven-time reigning champion Fayetteville-Manlius of Upstate New York, 108-120.

Throughout the first four kilometers, Manlius had a commanding lead of more than 20 points. But down the stretch, Wayzata came from behind and made up the gap. Anna French, Annika Lerdall, Mary Franke, Michaela Keller-Miller and Alayna Sonnesyn would combine to score 108 points, with McKenna Evans and Annika Halverson rounding out Wayzata’s top seven.

“My hats off to Wayzata, they did an outstanding job,” said Manlius coach Bill Aris. “I’m proud of these girls, they gave all they had, and they have no reason to hang their heads.”

Kai Wilmot Surprises With Runaway Boys Victory

North Spokane, Washington’s Kai Wilmot looked like a man on a mission at Nike Cross Nationals. Biding his time and waiting amid the lead pack through two miles, the prep senior ultimately broke the field with a strong surge, going on to win in an event record of 15:00.

“Hard work, great coaching, great teammates,” said Wilmot, explaining the keys to his victory.

With NXN Regional champions Cerake Geberkidane and Tony Russell among the leaders through two miles, no one seemed to want to surge and push the pace out front. That was until Wilmot — and teammate Tanner Anderson — made their presence known.

Wearing bright orange hats so they could locate one another during the race, Wilmot and Anderson found themselves side by side at the front of the 197-person field.

“It was pretty incredible,” said Anderson, a junior. “Two kids from a small school in Spokane leading the national meet for a little bit. It’s just something we’ve been dreaming of and we were able to do it for a little bit.”

After enjoying their moment in the lead, Wilmot decided it was his time to go. Placing 32nd at NXN last year, Wilmot was focused on closing his high school cross-country career with a strong finish.

“I’m just going to make a move and go for it and see what happens because at least that way, even if I don’t win, I’ll be able to say I went for it, I tried, and have no regrets about it,” he said.

Surprisingly, when Wilmot took off, no one followed. Running a majority of the final mile by his lonesome, Wilmot looked back and saw nothing but a large gap.

“I could have sworn he had a smile on his face,” said commentator and Olympic 800m runner Andrew Wheating, who was watching from the lead vehicle. Wilmot even tried to pass the vehicle at one point.

Ultimately, Wilmot would cross the finish in an event record of 15:00, nine seconds ahead of runner-up Blake Haney (15:09). Coming in a the same time as Haney was Anderson in third; the two North Spokane teammates in Wilmot and Anderson would embrace meters from the finish line in a big hug.

As seemed to be the trend, the state of Washington was also victorious in the boys team competition. Gig Harbor scored 111 points to best Lincroft (Christian Brothers Academy) of New Jersey, who tallied 139.

Coached by elite 800m runner Mark Wieczorek, Gig Harbor’s team was made up of Wolfgang Beck, Logan Carroll, Tristan Peloquin, Mahmoud Moussa, Michael Hammer, John Shields, and Jordan Oldenbur. Beck, Carroll, and Peloquin each finished in the top twenty, placing sixth, 12th, and 16th, respectively.