Camas (Wash.) High junior Alexa Efraimson ran so fast in winning this season’s national cross country championship that she paced the second- and third-place finishers to times that broke the course record. But the teen was stopped in her tracks today when U.S. Olympian and nine-time NCAA All-American Molly Huddle surprised her with the 2013-14 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award.
“I really can’t get my head around this right now,” said Efraimson, 17, who will begin her senior year of high school this fall. “When you see the the list people who’ve won this, I’m just so honored to be considered. It’s all a bit overwhelming.”
The 5-foot-8 junior raced to the national title at the Nike Cross Nationals Final this past season, breaking the tape with a course-record time of 16:50.1. Also the 2012-13 Gatorade Washington Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year, Efraimson captured this year’s Class 4A individual state cross country championship, racing to a course-record time of 17:01.1 and leading the Papermakers to second place as a team.
“She looked so surprised when I handed her the trophy and there was a lot of blushing,” said Huddle, 29, the American record-holder in the outdoor 5,000 and a finalist in the event at the 2012 London Games. “This award is such a great symbol because it’s not just about sports. It’s about being a well-rounded person and this honor shows that striving for that pays off. Hopefully, Alexa’s example can inspire more kids to be like her.”
The teen’s dominant cross country campaign also featured wins at the Nike Pre-Nationals, the Nike BorderClash and the Bill Dellinger Invitational as well as the NXN Northwest Regional championships in a course-record time of 17:27.1.
“In a state that has produced some extraordinary distance runners over the past decade, Alexa seems to be the best of them all,” said Doug Binder, Editor-in-Chief of Dyestat.com. “She has tremendous physical ability and combines that with fierce competitive instincts. She came into the cross country season fresh off a bronze medal performance in the 1,500 meters at the World Youth Championships in the Ukraine and that result gave her a lot of confidence. After that, I think we all believed she was capable of doing anything she set her mind to.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the racecourse. Efraimson is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Efraimson has maintained a 3.90 GPA in the classroom. A member of DECA, Key Club and the National Honor Society, she has volunteered locally as a youth soccer referee and has served meals to the needy at the Zion Lutheran Church’s Lost and Found Cafe.
Efraimson becomes the first prep athlete from Washington State to win national Gatorade honors in either cross country or track and field. She joins six other national winners from the state, including former NFL quarterback Brock Huard (Puyallup), who won in 1994, former Minnesota Twins first round draft pick B.J. Garbe (Moses Lake), the 1999 winner in baseball, and retired MLS defender Nick Downing (Eastlake, Redmond), who won in 1998.
California has produced the most national winners in the award program’s 29-year history with 60 followed by Texas (27), Florida (20) and Illinois (15).