The Jackson County girls’ cross country team enjoyed runners-up honors in Region 8-AAA the past two years, so the objective this year doesn’t change even though the school has switched regions.
“Our goal is to win the region,” coach Joseph Brubaker said.
Now members of 8-AA, Jackson County begins its season Saturday with a meet at Buford, followed by the annual Northeast Georgia Championships Aug. 28 at Athens Christian.
The team has 10 regular season meets to get into shape for the late October Region 8-AA meet which will be held a stone’s throw from Jackson County’s campus at Crow’s Lake.
In fact, the team already holds some of its practices there.
In seeking a region title, Jackson County — which finished 16th in Class AAA last year — returns runners with state meet experience from 2009, led by senior standout Brittany Aikens.
Aikens finished seventh last year in Class AAA with a 19:39. She has offers to run collegiately.
Others with experience are sophomore Sydney Baird, who finished 69th at state last year with a 22:10, and junior Rachel Pasko, who was 96th at state with a 23:07.
Added to the fold are a group of freshmen that Brubaker hopes have an immediate impact. The new runners include Michayla Scollon, Kourtney Axelberg and Maddie Newton.
“Hopefully, we’ll fill the slots of the seniors that left,” Brubaker said.
Though the Lady Panthers have experience, they only have eight runners on the roster, which could present an obstacle for a team seeking a title.
“We’re not very deep at all,” Brubaker said.
The key is everyone running at their peak in late October and early November — and staying healthy.
“It should be interesting if we progress throughout the year and peak at the right time without getting hurt,” Brubaker said.
BOYS' TEAM WELCOMES NEW RUNNERS
Jackson County is still trying to build its boys’ cross country program, but does have 15 runners this year, which is a start.
“That’s a big improvement,” Brubaker said.
Most of the team is brand new, though it does return junior Tyler Ledford, who’s recorded sub-19 minute time and led Jackson County in three meets last year.
Newcomers that could contribute for Jackson County this year are senior transfer Brian Nunez, freshman J.T. Wood, sophomore Tyler Manculich, sophomore Dusty Haralson, sophomore Danny Butler and senior Spencer Feltner.
“I’m just waiting to see how these guys develop,” Brubaker said.
So far, both Nunez and Woods have shown promise in practice, according to Brubaker.
The coach said he’s excited about the higher participation rate this year for the boys but said there’s work to be done.
“The ultimate goal is to get five guys under 20 (minutes),” he said. “You’ve got to do that before you can do anything competition-wise.”
Brubaker said that’s a realistic goal as long as the team continues to work and stay healthy.
“Hopefully we’ll have to readjust our goal … Whether its getting more guys under 20 minutes or five guys under 19 minutes,” he said.