Cross country is, in many ways, all about the numbers. When discussing numbers, the general focus is on the times being turned in by the team and not on the size of the team itself, but both factors will be in play for Perry this fall, the former in the case of the Bluejays and the latter when it comes to the Jayettes.
Bluejay head coach Jeff Fox is excited to see the times his harriers — especially junior Atem Akok — could produce this season while Jayette head coach Nathan Krohn will have to make do with just 10 runners on the roster.
Akok is coming off a spectacular showing at the USA Track and Field Iowa State Meet in Ames this June. He produced a state record for 17-18 year olds in the 3000 meters by winning in 9 minutes, 2.11 seconds. Akok also won the 1500, in 4:16.76, and placed second in the 800 in 2:02.93.
"Atem has really stepped it up and is starting to show the kind of runner he can be," Fox said. "I believe he will be one of the top runners in the state and could easily be in the top five. He possesses all the physical tools and it really becomes a matter of getting his head right. He is only now starting to realize how good he could be."
Fox said he expects Keegan Pfau and Christian Morales to be steady at the number two and three spot for the Jays, with Oscar Chavez, Zach Roberts and Cole Chance also in the mix. Teams enter seven runners in a varsity meet and score their fastest five, leaving Fox concerned only for that final spot or two.
"I believe we will be real solid in our top three or four, which leaves us needing one more — and hopefully more than one guy will — step up and take a spot," he stated. "Our numbers should be a little higher this year with many of the soccer guys coming out and that will give us more of a mix to look at.
"I was pleased with how some of the guys worked over the summer," Fox added. "Atem ran all summer and Keegan was just amazing and put in, believe it or not, one thousand miles in the off season and I can already see the benefit that had for him."
Krohn expected to start the season with only six harriers, but several late additions have given the Jayettes more breathing room than was at first expected.
"This year we are going to have to readjust our goals," he said. "Yes, we are a team, but we will probably focus more on individual accomplishments and use that as motivation. If we get everyone focused on improving from one meet to the next it will elevate the team in the process."
The team is laden with upperclassmen. Five seniors — Ashley McCord, Nicole Ayala, Jessie Laughridge, Louise Peitz and Irhet Navarrete — will don the blue and white, with juniors Leah Reuter and Aurora Rodriguez also on the squad. Sophomore Taylor Lathrum and freshmen Chloe Anderson and Kyla Devilbliss round out the team.
"You have to admit to yourself that a lot of high school girls are just intimidated by running," Krohn said. "We have a lot of girls out for volleyball, which is great, but that limits our numbers some. "The other factor is that it is hard to promote cross country, for a couple of reasons," he added. "One is that we have only one home meet and another is that this is a sport in which you either have God-given talent or not. That does not mean you cannot come out and do well and really improve, but it is true that it is a sport where only a select few are going to be at the very top."
While not having any superstars on the squad, Krohn said he liked his small group and their approach to the season.
"I see a great deal of potential as far as the level of improvement we can make," he noted. "The attitude of the team has been very good. I think we will have fun, which is something that does not get talked about very much — fun. You have to have fun and enjoy what you are doing to run cross country, because it requires an awful lot of work. That requires some mental toughness and I think these girls have it."
Perry will host the 11th annual Leon Fox Invitational at the Perry Golf and Country Club Oct. 3 in their only home meet of the season.