Buoyed by the Buckaroos' strong long relay teams, the St. Paul track and field team will send 13 representatives to Eugene for the state championships following the conclusion of the Tri-River District championships hosted at Scio High School on Thursday and Friday.
The St. Paul girls team captured two individual district titles at Friday's event, led by the team's 4 x 400 relay team that smoked the competition with a winning time of 4:21.75 to easily capture first place by more than six seconds over the runner-up team from East Linn Christian.
Jennifer Hernandez, Emalee Ell, Isabelle Wyss and Rachel Vela — along with reserves Emma Connor and Ana Maury Gonzalez — will make the trip to the University of Oregon's Hayward Field on Thursday as the third-seeded 2A relay team after turning in their best time of the season at the district event.
The Bucks opened the season looking to recapture the magic of last year's long relay team, which finished seventh at the state championships, but graduated three members and saw a fourth — Logan Robinson — commit fully to the school's softball program this spring.
St. Paul opened the season March 23 with Ell, a member of last year's state-qualifying 4 x 100 relay team, and Hernandez joining Gonzalez and Jackie Diaz to post a time of 4:43.62. As the season progressed, Vela and Wyss joined the relay team and the time continued to decrease through April before the team posted its season-best finish at the district tournament, two seconds behind last year's team at the state championships.
Like Ell, Hernandez will be making a return trip to state, but this time as a multi-event district champion. The St. Paul senior enjoyed a career day at the district championships, winning both the long jump and triple jump with personal record-setting leaps.
Hernandez placed 12th in the long jump at last year's state championship, but returns this year with a much stronger resume after posting a PR of 15-11 to win the district title on Thursday. She followed on Friday with another strong performance in the triple jump, beating out East Linn Christian's Dahlia Rickman and teammate Ell for the district title with a jump of 32-09.75.
Ell finished just outside of matching Hernandez in the triple jump, placing third with a mark of 32-04.25. Though her final mark would have put her in the top half of the field at this year's state championships, it was not enough for an at-large qualifying spot.
On the boys side, the Bucks doubled up on the 4 x 400 relay with a second-place finish in 3:37.29 by Francisco Vargas-Ayala, Adal Izquierdo, Ethan Wyss and Saul Martinez to qualify for state for the second consecutive year.
Last year's team placed sixth overall at the state championships, but this year's team has been even better with freshman Martinez replacing outgoing senior David Martinez. This year's quartet will be backed up by reserves Gianni Grasso and Marco Anaya.
The St. Paul boys' lone individual qualifier, freshman Alex Dela Cerda, took home a second-place finish in the javelin with a throw of 127-10 to punch his ticket to Eugene. Dela Cerda also placed fifth in the shot put with a mark of 37-04, but should challenge for a trip to state in the event next year, with all four athletes who finished above him at districts set to graduate.
The St. Paul boys had several near misses in the state qualifiers, with Martinez finishing second in the preliminary round of the 400, only to miss out in the finals by less than half a second after placing third with a time of 53.91. Martinez also took home a third-place finish in the 200, placing a second out of qualifying for state with a time of 24.53.
The 2017 2A State Track and Field Championships will be held on Thursday and Friday at the University of Oregon.