JACKSON TWP. Where did everyone go?

High school track coaches may ask that question a time or two at this point in a season, as the onset of the postseason means that with each passing week, fewer and fewer of their athletes are still competing as the district and regional meets thin the herd.

With each passing week, the level of competition rises and the number of athletes taking part falls, so the size of practices shrinks in more ways than one.

"You get done with practice a lot earlier," Jackson head boys track coach Scott Stayer noted with a small laugh. "The practices are even more focused at this point and the kids who are there have a common goal."

That common goal is going as fas as possible in the postseason, a road that begins this week at the North Canton Division I district meet.

Stayer noted that once the postseason begins, the overall nature of the competition shifts. While dual meets, invitationals and the Federal League meet are all chances for both team and individual success, for the overwhelming majority of teams, the district, regional and state meets are almost exclusively individual endeavors.

The district meet can be a slight anomaly in that respect as every team has a chance to put the same number of competitors in events, but beyond that, the number of representatives a team has at the regional and state meets can vary from one to a dozen or more.

"Last week with the Federal League meet, there’s that common goal, but from the district meet on, unless it's a relay, it’s pretty much an individual event and everyone try to win their own race," Stayer said.

Teams support one another in that setting, but as fewer of them are active participants, the remaining athletes can find themselves with a lot less of their school colors surrounding them during meets.

That carries over to practice and for a team with more than 100 athletes on the roster, having a dozen or so athletes still running, throwing or jumping in the latter stages of the postseason is a big change. Designing workouts is simpler with fewer athletes - even though any coach would likely happily accept the challenge of having to plan for more athletes as regionals and the state meet roll around - and with a large coaching staff, Jackson has the capability to get hands-on work with coaches for its remaining competitors.

That process is helped by the experience of the team’s distance group, with Nick Regas, Evan Akers, Jon Uhl, Ronny Brookes and others having enjoyed a lot of success in both cross country and track. Their cross country coach, Kevin Walsh, is also an assistant track coach and having him to work with in both sports has proven beneficial for the distance group.

"This group of distance kids is so good at what they do that I can be working with the sprinters, coach Walsh may be around working with the girls on their workout and we keep an eye on our distance guys, but those boys are busting their butts and you don't have to watch the stopwatch to make sure they’re running hard."

The veterans in the group, such as Regas and Akers, have done a good job of connecting with the underclassmen and showing them how to tackle their work, according to Stayer. They’re applying lessons from past senior classes and carrying them on, much like they hope their season carries on all the way to regionals and the state meet next month.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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