JACKSON TWP. Hobbled and hamstrung, the Jackson Polar Bears will continue their cross country postseason run.
Once again, the most successful cross country program in the Federal League will send both its boys and girls teams to the regional meet, even though this year the postseason has been a much tougher road than in past seasons.
“Both teams are moving on, which was the big goal,” longtime head coach Kevin Walsh said. “The boys had a great race, number one through number six, and the girls didn’t have Kayla (Chapman) or Shira (Weiner), so for them to move on is big.”
The girls team unquestionably had the harder road between the two squads, with injuries depriving the Polar Bears of their top runner, Chapman, for most of the season and Weiner, their second-best runner, for the end of the season.
Chapman has been out of action for weeks, but despite her absence, Jackson finished third at the Federal League championship meet. Weiner ran that day, placing 18th, but was unable to compete at the Malone Division I district meet.
In place of its two top runners, Jackson got a balanced, team effort at the district meet. The team’s top four runners all finished between 19th and 29th, allowing the Polar Bears to finish fifth and move on to the Austintown Division I regional meet.
Freshman Quincy Powers powered the team with a 19th-place finish, crossing the line in 20:36.52. Close behind were senior Gigi Kinney (20:52.32, 26th), senior Laramie Scanlon (28th, 20:56.73) and sophomore Taylor Etter (29th, 20:57), crossing the finish line within five seconds of one another.
All seven Jackson runners finished 39th or better, placing the Polar Bears just ahead of Federal league rival Green in the standings.
The same pack mentality served the boys team well on the day, with five Jackson runners ranking 23rd or better. Running together has been a focal point all season, but a recent disappointment reinforced that idea for the team entering the postseason.
“The boys really wanted to rebound from the Federal League meet and run better as a team,” Walsh said. “At the league meet, our pack got separated and they didn’t run as well on their own, so at districts they were motivated to run better.”
The league championship meet saw Jackson place a disappointing third behind Perry and Lake, with Jaylon Grimes (fourth) the only runner to crack the top 10 for the Polar Bears.
At the district level, Grimes again led the way, ranking eighth in a time of 16:44.71. Behind him, the quartet of Nick Regas (18th, 17:08.29), Sam Craig (21st, 17:14.91), Jon Uhl (22nd, 17:16.76), Evan Akers (23rd, 17:16.92) and Nathan Immel (34th, 17:33.17) combined to form a strong second wave that carried Jackson to second place behind Louisville.
With 92 points, Jackson has more than enough to push past all of its league rivals who also competed in the meet and secure a spot at the regional meet.
A look ahead at the regional field reveals an even stronger challenge. Walsh noted that many of the state’s top teams are among the 25 squads that will compete in Austintown, so for either Jackson team to move on, all of its runners will need to have their best times of the season and work together.
“The goal is simply to finish as high as we can. For the girls, they feel like they can run with no pressure,” Walsh said, alluding to Chapman and Weiner’s absence. “For the boys, we’re definitely one of those teams I expect to be on the bubble. It could go either way … if we race how we’re capable of, then we can definitely advance.”
The degree of difficulty continues to increase with each step in the postseason and for two Jackson teams that have seen their share of adversity and stumbles over the course of a long season, the regional meet is simply the next twist in their path.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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