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State meet offers St. Helens senior shot at best finish yet in Class 5A championships

PMG FILE PHOTO - Waylon Nichols (center) of St. Helens will be back at Lane Community College on Saturday for his third run in the state championships. The cross-country finish line is in sight for Wayne Nichols.

The St. Helens High senior will run his final race (till spring track and field season) on Saturday, taking on the state's other top competitors in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A championships in Eugene.

"I'm going to try to leave everything on the course," he said.

Nichols will be at the state starting line for the third year in a row. He placed 57th as a sophomore and 21st last season.

He has the 22nd-fastest time this season among 5A boys, but three of those ahead of him did not qualify to run on Saturday.

"I think I'll probably fall in the top 10 or 20. My goal is to try to get around top 10," he said.

The favorite is Ashland senior Evan Holland (14:51.7 PR).

Parkrose senior Ahmed Ibrahim is ranked second with a best of 15:05.0.

"Those guys are phenomenal. It's incredible to watch them," Nichols said.

Two other Ashland runners are next on the season list, and another Grizzly is seventh, so it's obvious which team is expected to win.

Nichols trailed only Ibrahim and Milwaukie freshman Logan Law at the Northwest Oregon Conference district meet Oct. 30 at Blue Lake Park in Fairview. Law's top mark is 15:53.4; Nichols has turned in a 16:25.3.

"District went pretty well. I placed where I wanted to. My first goal was just to make it to state," Nichols said. "The conditions weren't the best. It was really windy."

Nichols said he's feeling "fairly good" for state, though he hasn't been 100 percent physically due to a strained hip muscle.

The hills on the Lane Community College course could be a challenge on Saturday, "but besides that, it's not too bad of a course," he said.

He qualified for state as an individual, so he won't have the full team support system around him.

"It'll be pretty much just my coaches and my family," he said. "Not having your team there makes everything a bit quieter and harder at times, especially when warming up, but it's not a serious deal."

The race itself tends to be more strategic than fast.

"It's more of a mental game," he said.

His game plan includes "looking to run with some people who I know have similar times or who I've raced with before, and just seeing what the pack looks like."

Knowing that it'll be his last cross-country event makes it even more special.

"I'm really excited for it," he said. "It's also a bid sad, but that's a motivating factor, too, to give it everything you've got."

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