Jackson, which boasts 150 runners between its boys and girls cross country teams, is finding strength in the bonds developing among the teammates.
School is in session, the leaves are turning, and those hot, summer days of training are officially over. That can only mean it’s time to begin a fresh, new autumn season of Jackson cross country.
With a few races already under their belt, head cross country coach Kevin Walsh and his team look forward to this year’s cross country season, and hope to display their hard working talent in late October.
The boys’ and girls’ teams recently placed first and third, respectively at the Dave Clegg Invitational at North Canton Hoover, making a mark on the season.
“Both the girls and boys are putting in the work,” Walsh said. “The boys are doing a great job, and I have never had a group of guys that won’t leave practice. They show up, they love to run and they love being here.
“On the girls’ team we have a lot of talent coming back and we got a mix of some younger runners that are getting varsity experience. We hope that the work will pay off when we get to the end of October so that we can return to the state meet again.”
Opening its season at the OSHAA Preview meet and finishing in the top five on both sides, Jackson cross country left the course in hopes of returning again in early November.
“We were really happy with how we did at our first meet,” senior cross country runner Steven Coss said. “Coach Walsh said we might not run our best races early in the season but he is okay with that because we want to progress and get better throughout the season so that we can hopefully come back and race the course again.”
Starting strong and improving each week will carry Jackson closer to its ultimate goal.
“The goal is to get back to state and place higher than last year,” senior cross country runner Biz Graeff said. “A lot of us have worked hard all summer and I am really happy with where we are now considering all of our girls aren’t in perfect shape yet. We can only get better.”
But returning to the big state cross country championship isn’t the only thing Jackson cross country has focused its attention on. With a total of 150 runners this fall, Jackson cross country has essentially become a running nation, and has grown into a supportive, diverse family.
“We have 150 kids this year so we are pretty excited about that,” Walsh said. “The seniors and captains have been doing a great job of organizing and making work outs for each ability level. We run the girls’ and boys’ team together as one solid program and, I would say that they have always been close, but this year you really don’t see the separation.”
Page 2 of 2 - Matt Schario, a senior on the team, agrees that the family atmosphere has grown this season.
“There has always been that element of family but this year it seems like it has grown to a whole different level,” Schario said.
Graeff believes that feeling of connectedness gives Jackson its strength.
“Team unity is big this year,” Graeff said. “I have noticed more people are sticking together and cheering for each other and people want to be here.”
Although the Polar Bears have shown their abilities, it hasn’t been all easy roads and courses.
“We have had a bit of a recent injury with one of our top senior girl runners, Maddie Williams,” Walsh said. “We are just trying to stay positive and work through that in the meantime and this gives others the opportunity to step up.”
Despite the setbacks from injuries, the Polar Bears are not letting a few bumps and bruises get in their way of success.
“I don’t think it will affect the team,” Williams said of her injury. “We are pretty deep this year and I am going to see how it heals and, hopefully, come back for mid- and end-season.”
“The great thing is Maddie is going to be able to cross train,” Walsh said. “She was devastated at first but then her second reaction was, ‘Alright what are we going to do?’ and I think she did a great job of setting the tone for the team with that positive attitude.”