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A little more than a month into the season and the Cardinals boys and girls look like state title contenders.

After losing eight seniors across the boys and girls cross country teams that ran at state, Lincoln High looked like it would be facing an uphill battle to repeat or even improve on both teams' third place finish at state in 2021.

A little more than a month into the 2022 season, the Cardinals are on a short list of favorites to win the title in both boys and girls competition.

Leading the charge has been Samy Anderson on the boys side and Keira Saavedra for the girls.

Each has taken a unique route to climb the standings of Oregon, and now the team is following suit behind them.

For Anderson, a senior, cross country hasn't been a part of his life for that long, yet he currently has the second fastest time in Class 6A at 14 minutes, 57 seconds.

A quiet confidence is what Anderson brings despite having less experience, and that was displayed at the Nike Portland XC where he ran 14:57, his personal record.

"I would argue that the biggest race where there were big expectations on Samy and his life was this past weekend at Portland XC and he was phenomenal," Lincoln coach Eric Dettman said. "He's a guy that can go to the line, you know what's going to happen. And his teammates can find confidence within that and take that confidence, knowing they do the same type of training, and say 'We're capable of doing that as well.'"

Of course, Anderson had some strong upperclassmen ahead of him to help carry the role of leadership in years past.

Now as a senior and the top runner, Anderson is giving it back to his crew from what he learned last year under Aiden Smith.

"It's fun interacting with the freshmen and try to get them motivated and disciplined with the program, similar to how I was and how the seniors did to me," Anderson said. "I try to take a few juniors under my wing like last year, our No. 1 Aiden Smith kind of took me under his wing. He helped shape who I am today as a runner and so I want to do the same thing for someone else."

That interaction with the team isn't just the senior version of Anderson, either.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lincoln boys cross country's Samy Anderson, right, JahAllah Van, middle and Henry Alexander run together during a PIL meet Sept. 21, 2022, at Gabriel Park.His calm and welcoming demeanor was felt by junior Keira Saavedra, and she appreciates everything Anderson has done for her and the team as a whole to make them one of the best in the country.

"He's just such an uplifter and he has such a good positive mindset going into it," Saavedra said of Anderson. "He's a great role model for the underclassmen, definitely was a great model for me when I was a freshman. It's just been great having him on the team."

Lincoln is happy to have Saavedra on the team as well, thanks to her currently owning the top time this season in 6A at 18:00.8, one-tenth of a second faster than Lake Oswego's Ana Peters.

While Anderson has had to come into his own in cross country with training, Saavedra has always been a talented runner. Her growth has allowed the race to come to her instead of trying to take control.

"She used to be the person who might get a little teary-eyed at the starting line, might need a little bit of encouragement from coaches," Dettman recalled of Saavedra. "Now she's the person who walks up to you and is like, 'I'm so excited for this moment, I'm so ready for this moment.'"

Saavedra was ready on Sept. 17 at the Northwest Classic at Lane Community College, the site of the state race once again this year. That's where she clocked the 18:00.8 that still stands going into October.

That race wasn't about taking control for Saavedra, and rather cruising with the top pack and picking the right times to make her moves.

"That was definitely one of the best races I've run in my career of running," Saavedra said. "I'm known for getting out really fast and trying to lead, but not being able to hold on to that in the second mile. I think I did such a good job that race of being able to let the other racers do the work for me a little bit and then being able to calm up and take the last K."

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lincoln girls cross country's Keira Saavedra, left, and Sophia Malinoski cross the finish line at PIL meet Sept. 21, 2022, at Gabriel Park.Dettman agrees that the race in Eugene was the best he's seen of Saavedra taking a back seat a little bit and not putting it all on the line in the first mile.

While she's proving it on the course, off the course Saavedra has risen to be an important leader for the Cardinals with her energetic attitude.

"She's super kind and super friendly," Anderson said of Saavedra. "Very positive and encouraging and motivating."

The Lincoln cross country squad that is not only eyeing a state title, but has its sights set on placing top 10 in the nation at nationals down the line.

With another deep roster and leaders at the top like Anderson and Saavedra, there's no doubting the Cardinals will be crowing come Nov. 5 at the state meet.

"I'd be lying if I said we haven't talked about trying to be state champs on both sides, but there's some really high-level programs," Dettman said. "We want to be district champs: guys, gals, varsity, JV … We want to try and place as high as we can at the state meet, place as high as we can at NXR and go to nationals.

"The kids have lofty goals, but I think they've done the things to try and give themselves an opportunity to get there."

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