Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
When the Jefferson City cross country teams race today in the Class 4 state championships at the Oak Hills Golf Center, the girls will be enjoying a hard-earned victory lap of sorts while the boys will look to peak at the right time.
The Jays are paced by Saxon Teubner and Jackson Schwartz, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in last weekend’s sectional meet.
“They don’t feel like they’ve quite peaked as high as they’re going to,” Jefferson City coach Brett Phillips said. “I think they’re both top-20 runners, if not possibly higher. That’s their goals, and those are very reasonable goals for both those guys. They’ve had really, really good seasons. And I feel like they’re going to run their best race (today).”
Schwartz finished 26th in last year’s race, one spot out of a medal.
“I feel like he’s stronger, too,” Phillips said. “So (he and Teubner) give us a real good one-two punch. If our Nos. 3, 4, 5 race really well, hey, man, we’re pretty dangerous. So we’ll see. If we race like we did (in sectionals), we’re looking at about a seventh or an eighth place.”
Peaking at the right time is key for the Jays, and they think they’re set up to do so.
“We believe we are,” Phillips said. “I mean, us and the other 15 teams we’re racing against all feel like that. Everybody’s training plan is set up to peak on the 7th of November.”
One advantage the Jays have is the fact they return five runners from last year’s state team.
“It’s more than just knowing the course,” Phillips said. “It’s kind of just understanding how to push that peak back, understanding that you’ve got to maintain a mental focus through districts, sectionals and state. And having experienced that helps you. It helps you get ready for the next weekend. You don’t ever want to feel like you won it all if you just performed well at districts.”
The Jays escaped what Phillips called “definitively the hardest sectional in the state on the boys side.”
“There were five top-10 ranked teams in our sectional,” he said, “and one of them (Kickapoo) didn’t get out.”
Jefferson City finished fourth in the sectional. Behind Teubner and Schwartz were Landon Dunlap, who finished 27th, Cole Biesemeyer (34th), Thomas Nield (38th), Courtney Fitch (50th) and Josh Sabala (53rd).
Phillips expects a star-studded Lafayette team to lead the pack today, with Rockhurst, Rock Bridge, Lee’s Summit West, Webb City and West Plains also factoring into the medal race.
On the girls side, Phillips anticipates strong races from Nerinx Hall, Lafayette and Raymore-Peculiar.
For the Lady Jays, their appearance in the state meet is a victory in itself, as they were dealt injuries to their incoming No. 1 runner and the girl who claimed the top spot in her place.
“We’re a bottom-four team at the state meet, and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves for that reason,” Phillips said. “We could have been fifth last weekend, you know what I’m saying?”
McKenzie Gourley entered the year as the Lady Jays’ top runner, but suffered an injury two weeks into the season and spent much of the year returning to form. Her last meet was her first this season as the Lady Jays’ top finisher. Kayelee Payton stepped up in Gourley’s place as the team’s top runner, but suffered a hip avulsion earlier in the year, missed two weeks, and was reinjured at last week’s sectional race. She will not compete today.
“Anybody can crybaby about injuries,” Phillips said. “I mean, heck, man, it happens to anybody, but having two Nos. 1 get hurt” is significant.
Phillips was proud of his girls team for advancing past sectionals.
“Our girls were always racing all year long like it was going to be a brawl for us to get to the state meet,” he said. “We could very well be fifth at sectionals on a good day for us, and we weren’t. We were fourth.”
Brenna Duncan will be running in Payton’s place Saturday. Also running for the girls are Gourley, who finished 14th in sectionals, Caitlin Ruth (15th), Lindsey Biesemeyer (27th), Ryen Esterline (30th), Brianne Bechtel (37th) and Syleste Martinez (43rd).