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They call them “The Hype” and “The Calm.”

One led the other during Feb. 4’s meet at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Former Montana State standout Cristian Soratos paced junior Diego Leon and the mile field for 1,200 meters.

The adidas professional stepped aside, and Leon followed in Soratos’ footsteps.

The mild-mannered Leon became just the third runner in program history to log a sub-four-minute mile and first since a boisterous Soratos in 2015. The time was actually 4 minutes, 7.52 seconds, but Soratos knew immediately that his fellow Californian had accomplished the feat after elevation adjustment.

“He started going crazy and he hugged me,” Leon joked. “It’s like another PR, nothing crazy, but sub-four gets everyone excited and it’s something everyone shoots for.”

Leon, whose 3:59.13 is tops in the Big Sky and 18th nationally, has followed a nearly identical path to success as Soratos.

Both attended Hartnell Community College after being unable to attract offers from larger California schools. Leon’s first track season came as a high school junior. By his senior year, Hartnell cross-country and track head coach Christopher Zapeda could see potential.

Leon’s rise was swift, and Zapeda told Leon’s hometown newspaper in Hollister, The Free Lance News, that Leon could be one of the best ever to compete for the Panthers. The pupil didn’t disappoint, clinching conference titles in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000.

Even before those efforts, MSU distance coach Lyle Weese had tracked Leon’s progress. Weese, who coached three years at Hartnell, maintains a close relationship with Zapeda.

Bobcats head coach Dale Kennedy is grateful for the connection, which has elevated MSU’s national recognition of late.

“There are so many kids in Northern and Southern California — they all can’t go to USC, UCLA, Stanford or Cal,” Kennedy said. “Sacramento State picks up a lot of those kids that are Division I kids that really can’t get into those other programs. It was really kind of a breakthrough thing with Cristian coming up here. Some of those kids are looking at that like, ‘Wow, you can do it anywhere.’”

Success isn’t immediate, however.

It took Soratos until his senior year to find his stride. Leon’s first year here was wrought with injury, illnesses and playing academic catch-up.

He suffered an ankle injury that didn’t sideline him, but clearly impeded him during cross-country. He was sick for meets during the indoor year, and then classes for his civil engineering major took their toll.

“I decided to redshirt outdoor my first year and then this last semester’s cross season,” Leon said. “Redshirting helped so much because I was doing so much school. I had 17 credits and I just couldn’t really get it under my belt. It was one of my worst semesters ever. Not having the pressure to perform when you’re redshirting, you can just train. It’s so much easier and you can make school a bigger priority.”

He leads the MSU men into today’s Big Sky Indoor Championships at Idaho State. Leon will race in Friday’s distance medley relay and Saturday’s mile and 3,000.

Similarities between him and Soratos stop at their athletic prowess. While Soratos remains a vocal factor as a volunteer Bobcats coach, Leon is much more reserved.

“He doesn’t get too amped up about anything,” Weese said. “Cristian gets wound up really easy and Diego is in it for just kind of the pure racing element and element of competition.

“There’s been a natural comparison for Diego to Cristian, and ... I think that’s been a real positive in terms of motivation and someone to look up to and see what Cristian did here.”

KENNEDY EMBRACES NEW CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT: The Big Sky eliminated qualifying times for the championship, which has Kennedy excited for what his teams can accomplish.

Schools are allowed to enter 52 competitors — 26 men and 26 women — in whatever events they wish. Kennedy said his selection process wasn’t complex; he simply analyzed where his athletes ranked in conference and chose from there.

Some teams could select multiple distance runners, for example, to generate as many points as possible in a few events.

“That wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” said Kennedy, who’s been head coach since 1980. “It was pretty cut and dry.

“The real lifeblood of collegiate track and field is the conference championships. Teams come in there together and really see what they can do with their kids.”

The new format gives more value to those who can compete in multiple events. The coach added that his program already recruits with that in mind, but it may be more of an emphasis moving forward.

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Michael Appelgate can be reached at or 582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @mappelgate206.

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