St. Helens' two cross-country teams are going into this season with somewhat different realistic expectations.
The Lions have the most depth and experience on the boys side, led by senior Waylon Nichols.
The girls, other than with the return of top runner and sophomore Hannah Hayduk, who also plays soccer, are in a rebuilding mode.
Nichols placed third in the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference a year ago. For the first time, he'll be able to focus solely on cross country, as he has decided not to continue with soccer and a two-sport schedule through not only the fall but during club soccer as well.
So he figures to be out front again for the Lions, with a solid cast behind him that includes classmates Evan Garrison, Cooper Montgomery and Jakob Nelson.
Given their multiple seasons of cross-country experience, "I look forward to seeing what that group can accomplish in their final season," coach Naomi Reedy said. "Their leadership is extremely important because we also have a large class of incoming freshmen and a couple other younger runners who have never done cross country before.
"It's exciting to consider the potential these new additions to our team have and how they will shape the future of our program."
Nichols is the No. 2 returning runner in the league, behind Parkrose senior Ahmed Ibrahim, who took third at state. Garrison was 16th at district last year, Montgomery 25th and Nelson 41st.
Lev Wolin returns to the boys squad as a sophomore, and Nick Brooks is back for his junior year.
St. Helens placed fifth out of eight teams in the 2018 NWOC district meet.
"We're aiming to improve on that and break into the top half of the conference," Reedy said.
A top-four finish would give the St. Helens boys a big accomplishment -- a trip to the state championship race set for Saturday, Nov. 9 at Lane Community College in Eugene.
"I think the goal for boys is to make it to state, like the girls did last year," Nichols said. "We were one spot away last year, and I think this is our year to take advantage of the numbers we have and the talent that's here. I think we can do it."
Reedy and the girls are more in need of reinforcements.
Hayduk was sixth in the NWOC in '18, and Hillary Barley, now a junior, was 34th. The rest of this year's lineup is a work in progress, however. Sophomore Drew Erickson is among the top candidates to run high on varsity.
"We're still working to increase our numbers overall," Reedy said. "Once the girls get more racing experience, we will be able to better evaluate our team expectations for the season."
The first meet was set for Thursday, Aug. 29 — the Bill Chapman Invitational at Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro.
St. Helens' next race is the Sept. 11 NWOC Preview at Blue Lake Park.
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