JACKSON TWP. If you’re going to start out the season on a pair of cold spring days, you may as well do it by downing a top contender for the league title and winning on the track of your arch rival.
In a five-day span, the Jackson boys track team garnered its first Federal League win - over GlenOak - and then claimed the title at the North Canton Relays, hosted by its chief rival, the Hoover Vikings.
Both wins carried significance for the Polar Bears, according to head coach Scott Stayer.
"This year started out great even though the weather has been awful," Stayer said. "We started out with arguably our toughest dual meet of year against GlenOak during spring break, and won that meet, then had a lot of guys come through with big performances at the North Canton Relays."
Stayer noted that the North Canton meet was a chance for the team to utilize its depth, as the nature of a relay meet creates more openings and because different types of sprint or distance relays can be run back to back, putting the same athletes he would normally use for the 400-meter relay, for example, into a sprint medley isn’t possible.
"We try to include a lot of the younger guys at invitationals like that because it goes so fast, guys can’t do back-to-back races," Stayer noted. "Our younger guys, they did great. We won the distance medley, won 4x800 relay and second in the 4x1,600 relay."
In addition to strong efforts in the distance relays, the team’s throwers notched a win as well, giving Jackson more than enough points to power its way past the field. The meet also underscored the team’s depth, which is a known commodity at this point as it’s been the case for quite a few years, but which is at one of its highest levels in recent memory.
About 170 athletes began the season with the team and after a few decided not to continue prior to the first meet, about 140 are left. That number is three or four full teams for some area schools and for Jackson, it means having competition at every spot on the roster. Relay meets hinge on depth, so winning at North Canton made a lot of sense for the Polar Bears.
It also made for a great day for Stayer, who described himself as "old school Jackson."
"Being an ‘old school Jackson’ guy, there’s always been a rivalry with Hoover no matter what we did and the kids know that, so we did celebrate that," Stayer said.
The veteran coach is hopeful that the first two wins are a harbinger of what’s to come. He admitted that his first two or three seasons at the helm, the team was slow to fully buy in to his message and to doing what he believed they needed to do in order to succeed.
The past two seasons have seen Jackson race to the top of the league and in the process, create a draw that makes more athletes want to come out for the team.
Asked where that depth has yielded the greatest strength this season, Stayer split the difference and called it a tie between the field and distance events. The distance group has been perennially strong, with the cross country team’s success setting the stage for that each fall and creating a group with multiple runners capable of submitting the type of low times that make them contenders for a deep postseason run.
"Guys like Nick Regas, Jon Uhl and several others, I’m confident they can run a sub-4:35 mile and most teams don’t have one guy who can do that and we could trot out six or seven who can," Stayer said. "Also, guys like Nate Immel have run some great races early on as well."
With the team’s depth comes options and those options multiply when the coaching staff knows it has runners willing to switch it up and compete in different events depending on what the team needs on a given day. Stayer pointed to senior Brandon O’Quinn, who recently committed to Walsh University for football, as an example. In the past, he said, O’Quinn was hesitant to run the 400 meters, preferring to stick to the 100 and 200.
This season, O’Quinn has asked if he can run the 4x400 relay to help the team and as a result, the relay has improved, Stayer said.
Winning the league title again this season will mean taking on a diverse slate of opponents, as rivals such as Canton McKinley are strongest in the sprints, jumps and hurdles, while the likes of Green, Perry and Hoover thrive more in middle distance and distance events. By the time the league race is decided, the snow and cold will (hopefully) have left for the season and if Jackson can battle its way to another title, it should be a warm day in the sun.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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