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Jackson cross country teams gearing up for run to state meet

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. Given that next Tuesday is Election Day in the United States and tens of millions of Americans will be voting for their next president, it feels fitting to mention that the last time the Jackson girls cross country team didn't qualify for the regional meet, millions of Americans were voting for their next president ... except that was seven presidential elections ago.

All the way back in 1992, voters chose between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. That same year, the Polar Bears didn't reach the regional level. Presidents have come and gone since then, but in every year of each of their respective administrations, Jackson girls cross country has qualified for regionals.

Jackson's Kailey Zagst led the way as the Polar Bears advanced to another trip to the regional cross country meet.

The streak continued this year with a top-four finish at the Division I district meet at GlenOak, with the girls and boys teams both moving on.

"Both teams showed lot of mental toughness with the colder weather  that we really haven't faced all season," veteran head coach Kevin Walsh said. "Also having the later start in the afternoon was different as well."

The colder weather was a swerve in the trail after a week that saw some summer-like days, including temperatures in the mid-70s the day before the district meet.

A nosedive of 30 degrees combined with heavy rains left the GlenOak course a much different one than it was in the multiple races Jackson ran on it earlier in the season.

"The ground was really soft. There were a couple spots of mud, but the did a great job getting the course ready," Walsh said. "We've run so many times where it's like running on a road because it's really firm." The soft course led to slower times, but that didn't stop the girls team from clinching its 28th straight regional berth or the boys from claiming their 11th in a row.

Brothers Alex and Elliot Zuckett paced the boys with strong finishes as Alex was fourth overall at 16:06 and Elliot was 24th as Jackson placed third behind Hudson and Hoover.

However, Walsh pointed to the efforts of juniors Lucas Immel and Carson Reed as vital in the boys' third-place finish.

"Lucas Immel and Carson Reed running in those three and four spots and running 17:01, as close together as they did, gave us those points," Walsh said.

The girls were equally solid, with sophomore Kailey Zagst ranking third overall at 18:32, followed by junior Sofia Istnick (11th, 19:32) and junior Allie Hartnett (17th, 19:50).

With their second-place finish behind Hudson, the girls extended a regionals appearance streak that began a full decade before any of them were born.

However, that prodigious streak and their district results couldn't be less relevant to the regional meet itself once the starting gun goes off.

Those elements are pushed to the sideline and instead, the important factors are a course with a tough uphill start and a talented field.

"The biggest part is having the correct mindset. If you ran great, it's motivation to run great again, and if you ran a subpar race before, the important thing is to bounce back," Walsh said.

With six members of the starting lineup for the girls and five for the boys who have state meet experience, Jackson has veteran voices who know what the regional meet is all about.

Their presence figures to help in the week leading up to the regional meet and ideally, on the course as well.

"They provide a very calming voice for the rest of the team. They know what Boardman regional is like, they've gone through trials and tribulations and they know you can't control the course and weather, so you worry about what you can control," Walsh said.

The Boardman course is similar to GlenOak, and given the time of year when regionals take place, it's often soft and not as fast. The key, Walsh said, is not getting pinned in the middle of the pack going up the initial hill and also to attack the hill without going out too fast and getting into an oxygen deficit.

From there, try to pick off runners ahead of you one by one, according to Walsh. How well the Polar Bears mange the hill and are able to work their way to the front of the pack will determine whether or not they make a return trip to the state meet and earn a chance to chase their first state title.