Jackie Diaz leads Buckaroo team that hopes to make repeated trips to Eugene in the future

The St. Paul cross country team was all smiles following the conclusion of its trip to the 3A/2A/1A state championships on Saturday.

Led by sophomore Jackie Diaz, who finished in 25:04, the Bucks finished 12th overall in the team standings in their first trip down to the course at Lane Community College under coach McKayla Fricker.PHIL HAWKINS -- WOODBURN-INDEPENDENT - Sophomore Jackie Diaz paced St. Paul at the 3A/2A/1A state cross-country championships, placing 75th in 25:04 Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene on Saturday.

"I was really nervous because it was state, but I was really proud of my team and we were all excited to race, and I'm just glad I made it here," Diaz said.

Coming off a surprise berth to the state championship race after finishing second at the district championships the week before, the Bucks weren't treating Saturday's race as a victory lap, but as a sign of things to come.

With every member of the St. Paul girls team slated to return next year, the Bucks are in a position to make several more runs at the state race and want the Eugene course to become a second home in future seasons.

"The experience that they get from the day is going to help them so much next year and the years to come," Fricker said. "We couldn't be more grateful for this experience."

The goal on Saturday was for the Buckaroos to come out and put forth their best effort in their final race of the season while seeing what it's like competing at a state championship venue with thousands of people from across the state coming to cheer on the best high school runners in Oregon.

Fricker wanted the Bucks to come into the race and act like they've been there, despite the fact that literally none of them have done so. In that respect, she felt that the team did a remarkable job and passed the test with flying colors.

"There was no blow-ups, there was no wide-eyed deer in the headlights," Fricker said. "They were ready for it and they went out and they raced and they ran and they competed, and that's all I could ask for the day."

Diaz was followed by teammates Taysha Veeman (25:30), Stephanie Morales (26:38), Abby Gonzalez (27:10) and Mayra Lozano (28:09). The Bucks were without their top runner, junior Rachel Vela, who pulled out of the race midway due to a hip injury. Fricker expects that Vela will be fine and praised the junior's grit and perseverance in leading the cross country team in nearly every race this season.

"She's such a fighter; she's so freaking tough," Fricker said. "I'm very impressed by her. She's a strong competitor and you know it has to be serious if she stops."

"We noticed that she was hurt, so we all had to step up and I think we did good as a team overall," Diaz said. "I wanted to PR again, and I didn't, but I was proud of myself in how I finished."

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