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The St. Paul girls return plenty of experienced runners, while the boys bring five freshmen into the fold

WOODBURN INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - Junior Broden Lear (center) will be the leading runner for the St. Paul boys.

With experienced runners on both teams, St. Paul cross-country enters its fall schedule feeling optimistic about the path ahead.

While the girls have a smaller squad with no new faces, the boys have a quintet of incoming freshmen to go along with their swath of established runners.

Junior Broden Lear is the leader for the boys. He has cranked up his effort a notch this season, according to coach McKayla Fricker, who expects a "big year" out of him.

"Broden was our solo state competitor last year and this year he is already putting a lot more effort into his training," Fricker said. "He went to a weeklong running camp, which is going to bring him up to the next level. He has some big goals this year and I think he has a good chance of achieving them."

Lear is dropping his times and adding more mileage to his training regimen; some of his teammates are following suit.

The boys are relatively young with only one senior, but return a lot of talent from last year's team. The lone senior is Josh Hershberger, entering his second year in the program.

"He's a sprinter on the track team, so it's always fun to have sprinters on the cross-country team," Fricker said. "It's a bit of a different mindset with coaching and helping them get the feel for distance running on the cross-country course."

Five freshman boys have joined the program and been impressive so far, Fricker said. They have shown dedication and a willingness to do extra work that is uncommon with a younger group, but that is a welcome divergence.

"All of them have been coming out and doing summer practices, which is really impressive for freshmen," Fricker said. "For them to make the time to come out to those is huge, and a couple of them are looking pretty good and dedicated."

Girls bring back top runners

The St. Paul girls are all returners, with no new girls entering the program. That poses a long-term challenge for the Bucks but bodes for short-term success, as the smaller team has its sights set on district and state competition.WOODBURN INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - Senior Jackie Diaz is steadily improving her times this fall.

"There are four senior girls, which is exciting from an experience standpoint but unfortunate for the program," Fricker said. "Jackie Diaz is probably going to be our No. 1 girl this season and her times dropped every race last season. She's excited and ready to go, and I'm excited to see what she can do."

The girls and boys squads begin the season Sept. 5 with the Darrel Deedon Cascade Invitational at Cascade High School in Turner.

After that, it's the Ultimook Race on Sep. 7 in Tillamook, which includes an overnight camping trip that Fricker expects to be a fun bonding experience. Both teams will attend.

Six other meets fill the schedule in September and October before St. Paul competes at districts Oct. 31 in Lebanon and at state Nov. 9 at Lane Community College in Eugene.

The Bucks aspire to send multiple athletes to state and compete near the top at districts, and all that's left is taking care of business out on the trails and sidewalks this season.

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