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Junior has district title, state podium on the mind as boys gear up for state qualifier

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul junior Broden Lear finished fourth at the Regis/Stayton High Invitational on Oct. 3 at Stayton Middle School. Lear is looking to make a return to the state championship race this season, this time with a top-10 placement on his mind.St. Paul's Broden Lear recalls the finish of his first trip to the 3A/2A/1A Cross Country State Championship race in 2018.

Heading into the final 300-meter stretch along the track at Lane Community College, Lear fell behind Harry Schaefer of Southwest Christian and Andrew Lackey of Union for 12th place with a time of 17:27.

It was the second-best time of Lear's high school career, but being just three seconds shy of qualifying for a medalist place on the podium, it left Lear with plenty of motivation coming into his junior season.

"Being two spots off last year was a heart-breaker," Lear said. "I'd like to go run a sub-17 at state and be top 10, so I can be on the podium this year."

Lear has gotten close to his goal a few times this year. Heading into last week's race at Regis Middle School on Oct. 3, the St. Paul junior was coming off a personal record time of 17:10.50 at the Champs Invite on Sept. 20.

That race is at Cheadle Lake Park in Lebanon, the same site as the upcoming district championship taking place at the end of the month. Of the five races he's competed in this year, Lear has logged four times under 18 minutes, including a fourth-place finish of 17:30.60 at Stayton.

While he's yet to clip the 17-minute barrier, he continues to set the pace for the St. Paul boys team and is putting in much better times than he did at the same time in 2018 for his sophomore season.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - With five freshmen - Gage Cook, Jackson Cook, Aiden Daimler, Mason Cacka (pictured) and Tyler Crawford - the Buckaroos have bolstered their boys roster with a strong core of runners this season with plenty of room for potential."I feel really confident with him and his training, and not just what he's put into, not just during the season, but during the summer," St. Paul coach McKayla Fricker said. "If you want to take cross country seriously, you run well during the summer. So, he's already started higher than he was last year."

Lear's finish at Stayton was a 31-second improvement over his time at the same race last season. The Champs Invite shaved four seconds off his previous best, set at districts last year when he placed fifth overall.

This season, Lear is looking at contending for a district title and a return to the state championships, but to do so, he'll need to best Veritas senior Cam McChesney and East Linn junior Brandon Williams, each of whom has posted a sub-17 time this season.

Lear and Williams finished 12th and 13th at state last year, respectively.

"I want to try to at least get second in districts this year, as far as that goes, just beat Brandon," Lear said. "We'll see when districts come how I'm feeling. Maybe try to win a district championship."

But unlike in 2018, Lear is not looking to compete at state alone. This year, the Bucks boast a bevy of incoming freshmen, including Gage Cook (45th, 20:48.80) and Jackson Cook (49th, 20:54.30), who followed behind Lear at the Stayton race.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior Jackie Diaz led the girls team with a season-best time of 27:10.50. Diaz and senior teammate Abby Gonzalez have been valuable leaders for the freshmen boys this season.The Bucks went on to finish eighth of 15 teams with 191 points. Additional scorers for St. Paul were freshman Aiden Daimler (66th, 21:30.30) and junior Hayden Schindler (74th, 21:49.90).

"I'm really excited about them," Fricker said. "With five freshmen, you really don't know what to expect from the team. But (they) have really stepped up and put in a lot of work this season."

With such a young team comes inexperience, but also the vast potential to improve. Both Cooks have posted multiple times under 21 minutes, and both Fricker and Lear have confidence they can drop below 20 by districts. In addition, Daimler's time at Stayton was a new PR by more than a minute, while fellow freshman Mason Cacka added a PR of his own with a 96th-place time of 22:54.40.

"They've surprised a bunch of us as far as running," Lear said. "Big goal is to get under 20 as soon as possible. I think we can do it. It's just a matter of if they think they can do it and putting in the work of accomplishing that goal going to state."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - With Lear at the lead, the Buckaroos are looking to qualify their entire boys team to the state meet in November.Fricker said the boys team has been helped significantly by the Bucks' two senior girls — Jackie Diaz and Abby Gonzalez — who were part of the first St. Paul girls team to qualify for state a few years ago.

Without a full team of girls to compete with, Diaz and Gonzalez train together with the St. Paul boys and have provided the kind of mentorship that Fricker values, having been a part of the cross country team for the past three seasons.

"They're leaders, which is really helpful to have on the team," Fricker said. "They're positive and helpful with the younger boys."

Diaz went on to place 44th at Stayton with a time of 27:10.50, a season-best. She was followed by Gonzalez, who crossed the finish line in 32:15.40 to place 72nd.

The Buckaroos continue their season close to home this week when they travel to Keizer Rapids Park in Keizer at 10 a.m. Saturday for the Celtic Invite, hosted by the McNary cross country team.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Senior Abby Gonzalez finished 72nd at Stayton with a time of 32:15.40.

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