Fort Vancouver: Running into history

Trappers win program’s first league title in girls cross country

VANCOUVER — The Fort Vancouver girls cross country team finished the mission Tuesday afternoon, which means the start of a new mission begins Wednesday.

Run past one goal, find another. Repeat.

The Trappers won the first league title in program history with Tuesday’s win in Kelso. They say first because they believe there will be a second one day, and a third, and so on and so on. That is, after all, what quality programs do. They compete, they conquer from time to time, they do the necessary work to be in position to win again.

The Trappers have arrived.

The Fort Vancouver girls cross country team won the program’s first league title Tuesday. These champions will get to hang a banner: (From left to right) Shelby Willett, Emma Cortez, Jessica Vicente, Anna Harrison, Emily Phelps, Khonnie Ecklund, and Dhamar Campos. Photo by Owen Frasier.
The Fort Vancouver girls cross country team won the program’s first league title Tuesday. These champions will get to hang a banner: (From left to right) Shelby Willett, Emma Cortez, Jessica Vicente, Anna Harrison, Emily Phelps, Khonnie Ecklund, and Dhamar Campos. Photo by Owen Frasier.

“It’s such a big thing, not just for our program, but for our school,” said Anna Harrison. “It changes our culture. We can win.”

Emily Phelps, one of the top runners in Southwest Washington, won the individual race Tuesday, then cheered on all of her teammates as they crossed the finish line, making it official: The Trappers are Class 3A Greater St. Helens League champions.

When Phelps was a freshman, there were five girls in the program. There were seven or so when she was a sophomore. Last year, there were a dozen athletes. This year, 25 in the program.

“We’ve been working for three years to make this happen,” Phelps said. “We’re recruiting girls from middle school, getting girls from the track team, really encouraging them to participate.”

Still, it was not just a numbers game. Those athletes had to train.

“If you put in the hard work, it will show,” Jessica Vicente said. “I’m proud of the hard work. It shows the good side of Fort.”

The good within the cross country program includes doing some little things that matter. The Trappers, for example, give a gift bag to the bus driver for every meet. Gatorade. A snack. Even a Sudoku book, something for the driver to do while waiting for the competition to end before driving the team back to Fort Vancouver.

On Tuesday, the bus brought home the champions — Dhamar Campos, Emma Cortez, Khonnie Ecklund, Harrison, Phelps, Vicente, and Shelby Willett. The Trappers got here by following their core covenants, which they have turned into hashtags on social media.

Have fun.

Raise the bar.

Make history.

Hang a banner.

Finish the mission.

Surely you have heard the old saying about cross country runners: “Our sport is your sport’s punishment.”

In other words, it is difficult. Very difficult. Which is why #havefun is a big deal to the Trappers.

“Always encourage everybody,” Campos said. “Every practice, get a laugh, tell a joke, have everyone in a good mood.”

Those who play together, stay together.

Next came #raisethebar.

“We wanted to take our program to new heights,” Phelps said. “We are not here to just to have fun, we are her to try to compete. Raise the bar for our whole school, not just our program.”

It was time to #makehistory.

“To do something we haven’t done before,” Harrison said. “Get more people to join the team. Make it to district, regionals and state, whatever we put our minds to.”

That league title was a first. The Trappers hope to win district for a first time, as well, in a couple weeks. They reached regionals last season but did not get to state as a team. That is another mission.

No matter what happens the rest of this season, though, they will be able to #hangabanner in the gym. In the long history of Fort Vancouver sports, there is no banner for girls cross country. That will change.

“It’s going to be a reminder that we started something,” Harrison said. “It took us so long, but we got there. We’re hoping to start a legacy. The banner will show future classes it is possible. Through hard work, they can do it.”

Which brings us to #Finishthemission.

“Finish what we started at Fort,” Phelps said. “It doesn’t mean it’s over, though. It is just the beginning of a new thing.”

The Trappers are 4-0 in league meets with one to go, then there will be the postseason. In other words, the season is far from over. This was just one milestone for this season, one huge milestone for the program, one proud moment for the school.

The team also did this is dominating fashion. The Trappers finished 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 in Tuesday’s win over Kelso.

It was a little scary at first, though. Fort Vancouver coach Owen Frasier said after the first part of the race, Phelps and Harrison were followed by eight Kelso runners.

“I was screaming, ‘This is not what we planned,’” Frasier said. “We were so far behind.”

The rest of the Trappers reeled in the competition and the final part of the race was pretty much all red.

Frasier wept tears of joy after the race, noting on Twitter that in the future, when he looks up at the banner, he will think of these athletes and what they did for the program and for the school.

Phelps finished first in Tuesday’s race and then got to witness it all.

“Oh my gosh, this is happening,” she said.

Harrison finished second and also got a good look at the rest of the team. She tried to contain her excitement because, she said, she did not want it to look like she was showing up the competition.

That is another quality of these Trappers. They had every reason to celebrate, but they also wanted to show respect.

“I want to stay humble,” Phelps said. “You never know what’s going to come up the next day. Our season is definitely not over.”

Still, Tuesday was special.

“That race really boosts the confidence of our whole team,” Phelps said.

And for the first time, that race gave Fort Vancouver a league championship in girls cross country.


About The Author

Paul Valencia joins after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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