THE JACKSON County girls’ cross country team will lace up their running shoes and take to the running trail with a bulls’ eye on their backs this fall.
The Lady Panthers return five runners that helped them win the Region 8-AA championship a year ago and place fourth in Class AA. But Jackson County coach Joseph Brubaker isn’t talking about region championships right now with his team. The goal is more generalized at this point as preseason practice gets underway.
“(Getting to) state is definitely a goal now for me,” said Brubaker, the 8-AA Coach of the Year last year.
Rachel Pasco, nearly an all-state runner in 2010 after finishing 11th in Class AA, takes over the no. 1 spot following the graduation of Jackson County standout Brittany Aikens, who’s now running at Brenau. Pasco ran a 20:25 at state last year.
“She’s a tough competitor,” Brubaker said. “I look for big things out of her.”
Brubaker expects Pasco to run under 21:00 all year and perhaps break 20:00 towards the end of the season.
“I think with Rachel, there wont’ be much of a drop off at no. 1,” Brubaker said.
But Jackson County will have to focus on getting points out of spots 2-4. Syndney Baird (25th at state, 21:22) and Michayla Scollon (34th at state, 21:58) both finished in the top 35 of the state last year with sub- 22:00 times. Meanwhile, Maddie Newton is back after running a 23:00 at state. Kourtney Axelberg is the no. 5 runner after posting a 25:08 a year ago at the Class AA meet.
Depth, however, is a concern for the Lady Panthers. Brubaker is looking runners at spots 5-7 that can run consistently under 25 minutes.
As for the rest of the region, Jefferson, Dawson County and East Jackson all qualified for state a year ago, while Brubaker believes North Oconee will be strong this year. Jackson County will get an idea of the region pecking order at the season-opening Northeast Georgia Championships at Athens Christian Aug. 27. Most of the Region 8-AA will likely be there.
“It truly is a representation of Northeast Georgia, which is our region,” Brubaker said.
On the boys’ side, Jackson County returns J.T. Wood, who had a solid freshman season in 2010 on a Panther squad that placed 12th in the region.
Wood clocked a 19:31 at the region meet, finishing 29th.
Brubaker hopes the sophomore will break the 19:00 mark at some point this year.
“Oh, yeah, I think so,” Brubaker said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger. I don’t think that would be a stretch.”
Tyler Manculich and Danny Butler also return after finishing 83rd and 85th respectively at the region meet last year, as do Zach Sears and Jayli Her, who were on the cusp of breaking the starting lineup a year ago.
Brubaker, who is still trying to build the boys’ program, said the goal is to eventually have five runners clocking a sub-20:00 5K.
“We can’t set another one until we accomplish that one,” Brubaker said.