JACKSON TWP. The first weekend of the season was a perfect measuring stick for Jackson cross country and based on the results, the Polar Bears like where they stand.
Against the GlenOak Invitational field featuring some top teams from the area, the boys team placed second out of 24 squads and the girls with sixth among 22 teams. The boys and girls teams are facing different challenges this season, with the boys a more experienced team and the girls a younger one with key runners in top spots.
“It was a great start … on the boys’ side, a very deep and talented field and Hudson is one of the teams to clearly beat this year. They were state runners up last year and it gave us a measuring point,” head coach Kevin Walsh said. “We know we’re not where we want to be, but we were confident that we were at least in the ballpark.”
Walsh noted that Nick Regas and Evan Akers ran the second and third-fastest times in the history of the program and the veteran coach also pointed to the fact that Jackson has “obviously had a long history of a lot of success, so to do that is impressive.”
Regis clocked a time of 15:56.7, ranking fourth in the field. Akers was close behind in seventh with a time of 16:01.1 and with Patrick Baker and Jon Uhl both under 17 minutes and finishing 22nd and 23rd, respectively. Jackson outpaced St. Ignatius, Brecksville and the host Golden Eagles for second behind Hudson, which had three runners in the top 10.
The girls team entered the meet with a lot of new faces in the lineup and in the sense of gaining a better handle on what they have on the roster, the meet was a resounding success.
“On the girls’ side, the five teams in front of us had state meet experience last year … and we’re kind of young this year,” Walsh said. We have some people who were JV runners last year that have stepped up. The times they ran were outstanding and the work ethic of the girls program this summer was one of the best since I’ve been here.”
Fittingly, given their youth, the Polar Bears were led by freshman Allyson Bailey, whose time of 20:17.4 was good for 22, one spot ahead of teammate Taylor Etter. The duo powered their team to sixth place and although they may have wanted to finish higher on the leaderboard, Walsh said the times were good in and of themselves.
“Allyson Bailey was our top runner, she’s a freshman, so to have her first race run 20:17 was great and another was Taylor Etter, who was on varsity last year, but she was our number seven,” Walsh said. “If I had just shown them their times without a place, they would have been very pleased with them.”
With just one senior among their top five runners, the Jackson girls are a group still trying to build up a good base of varsity experience. That makes them a candidate to improve significantly over the course of the season and although there was some concern on the part of the coaching staff coming into the meet that it could be overwhelming to face a deep field with so many tough teams, Jackson exited the meet feeling better about its current status.
“The improvement they made showed up Saturday. When I looked at the field and where we were coming in, you’ve got a lot of people in new roles … I was concerned the moment would be too big, but it wasn’t,” Walsh added.
With a solid start on the ledger, the boys and girls teams can now shift their focus to a season that includes hosting the Federal League championship meet at the end of the regular season. It’s an opportunity the team is excited about on its own, but if they can put themselves in a position to win the meet between now and then, it will be that much better.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB