Brayden Hamblen has yet to visit Detweiller Park, either as a competitor or a fan.
If all goes well, the Rock Falls freshman could make the site of the state cross country finals one of his favorite haunts.
The next step on that path will be on Saturday, when he and the Rockets will be among the competitors in the Class 1A Oregon Sectional. After that, it's on to the state finals on Saturday, Nov. 9.
The top 25 finishers earn medals, and Hamblen hopes to be in that mix.
"That's a goal for me," he said. "I could maybe do it, but I don't know. I'll try."
This is Hamblen's first season of cross country, as the sport is not offered at Rock Falls Middle School. He was a state qualifier, however, in the 800 and 1,600 as an eighth-grader, so his prowess as a distance ace wasn't totally unexpected.
"I didn't think I was going to be as good as I am, but I knew I'd come in and I'd be able to hang with some good runners," Hamblen said. "I've just been running my races, working really hard in practice, and it's been paying off a lot."
Hamblen sent a message he could be a force in his very first meet. On Sept. 7, he finished sixth among 106 runners at the Oregon Open.
"I got out with the front pack and I thought, 'Well, this isn't that bad,'" Hamblen said.
He established himself as one of the top dogs locally by winning the Twin Cities Meet on Sept. 17.
"We were all having a really fun time," Hamblen said, "because it was all kids that we knew and we were friends with. It was just really cool to win a race locally."
Hamblen had one of his top races in the Big Northern meet on Oct. 19 in Genoa. He finished with a time of 15:36, the first time he cracked 16:00 on a 3-mile course, and placed fifth.
He followed that up by taking second, to Annawan-Wethersfield's Michael Cook, at the Class 1A Bureau Valley Regional this past Saturday. He was clocked in 16:06, within shouting distance of Cook, who won in 15:57.
"I just tried to hang with the people in front, and it was working really good," Hamblen said. "We got into about the last mile, and I was right there with the first three guys. I just hung with them until the end."
Hamblen has taken proper measures to put himself in this position. He ran with the Rockets 5 days a week during the summer, averaging about 40 miles per week. He also swore off junk food and pop, instead loading up on fruits and vegetables. His favorite thing to eat is his mother's lasagna.
That dedication and natural ability has helped put Hamblen on a pace to be in some rare Rock Falls air. The Rockets have had just two state placewinners in boys cross country: Larry Schuldt in 1976 (18th in Class AA) and Brandt Cole in 2012 (15th in Class 1A).
"Being a freshman, you usually don't see that," Rock Falls coach Mark Truesdell said of Hamblen's quick rise. "Brandt, he didn't really mature until his junior year and figure it all out. Braydon, he's still learning, but he's in with kids that are older than him, and he's not afraid to duke it out with them."
The Rockets are ranked 20th in the final Dyestat Class 1A poll, and will be one of six ranked teams in the field at Oregon. The others are No. 1 Winnebago, No. 9 Newman, No. 12 Rockford Christian, No. 14 Byron and No. 25 El Paso-Gridley.
The top five teams, as well as seven individuals not on those teams, advance to state. Hamblen is hoping to have some company for his expected first trip to state.
"We only lost to Newman by eight points [at the regional]," Hamblen said, "and they're ranked second in our sectional, so I think we have a really good chance to make it as a team. We've all worked really hard this season."
School: Rock Falls
FYI: Established himself as Rockets' No. 1 cross country runner. ... Won Twin Cities Meet, and was second at 1A Bureau Valley Regional.