Blue Jay cross-country team is getting 'faster and stronger'
The Jamestown High School cross-country team is slated to host the first meet of the season on Aug. 20 at Parkhurst Recreation Area.
JAMESTOWN — Calendar shifts and unknown weather forecasts has made for an interesting first couple of weeks for the Jamestown High School cross-country team.
"It's coming up quick that is for sure," JHS head coach Ken Gardner said of the first competition of the year. "We started so early this year that we'll have two and a half weeks of practices before the first day of school, normally it's a week and a half.
"As a coach that will be nice because I'll have more time to prepare for the first meet not having to be in the classroom all day but we'll see how the kids respond to that, sometimes they kind of get into a routine with school so we'll see how it goes."
The Jays began practices on Aug. 8 and will hold its first meet of the season on Aug. 20 out at Jamestown's Parkhurst Recreation Area.
As of Aug. 17, Gardner had more than 30 teams signed up to compete at the annual Orrignals Invite, nearly half of of which are from Class A programs. The meet will boast middle school, junior varsity and varsity divisions for both the boys and girls.
While the Blue Jays have been running all summer long, the Jays have just been gradually building up their mileage by going on runs of a recommended distance. Now that they've been hit with official practices Gardner has started to incorporate more speed and hill workouts and strength training.
Another downside of starting the season almost two weeks early, is that some of Gardner's athletes won't have enough practices to compete in the team's opening meet. All athletes in all sports must have nine days of practice in prior to their first competition as a requirement of the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA).
"The 20th of August is about as early as I remember us having a cross-country meet," Gardner said. "I could be a little worried about the heat because in mid-August you never know what kind of weather we are are going to get.
"When you combine a really hot day and quite a few runners who maybe aren't in as good of shape as they should be — it could be a bad combination. If we could avoid the heat (on Saturday) that would really help."
Ethan Igl and Sam Anteau are two of Gardner's most experienced varsity runners. Igl was consistently in the No. 2 spot last year behind former all-conference finisher Cullen Flieth. Anteau and Raine Job are two of the juniors who could be tasked with contributing to the varsity squad. Austin Andersen, a senior, has also been battling to get into the top-seven the last few years.
Sophomores Caleb Fabian and Micah Stoudt, freshman Gradin Thorlakson and eighth grader Jack Schauer are the final four that have a chance at running with the varsity team. All eight of the Jays' varsity returners ran at the 2021 State Meet and all eight finished in under 20 minutes.
Gardner said while the boys team may see some success this season, the head coach is expecting the real success to come in the next two seasons.
"We've got a decent group of young guys right now and with guys especially, as they get older, they get taller, they get stronger and they get faster," Gardner said.
"The prize these guys really got to keep their eyes on is next year and the following year when they really start developing."
While the girls' team might not be racking up the inches like the guys are, they are certainly working towards clocking in at a good pace this season.
The girls are welcoming back a crew of runners who have seen at least one year of varsity experience. Freshman Brooklyn Nygaard has been one of the Jays' most consistent runners ever since she went out for the sport in the fall of 2020 but this year might be a little different for the ninth grader.
"She's coming back from a knee injury that she kind of dealt with all of track season," Gardner said. "She can now try and handle five miles a day but none of it is at race pace so it's going to be a while yet for her."
Senior Jera Truax will be back in the mix — just not at the opening meet due to not having quite enough practices under her belt.
"One that is looking really good right now is another freshman, Madison Rick," Gardner said. "She ran middle school track last year. She's always been one that is a hard worker and was knocking on the door of our top-seven last year. She's kind of taken a step forward."
Gardner has also noticed freshman Ella Thomas who has put in a lot of miles over the summer months. The three Hoffer sisters — Kyra, Jayla and Layna will be back on the trails this fall.
Layna was the only member of the 2021 Blue Jay XC girls team to earn all-state status. She finished 20th at the Class A State Cross Country Meet with a time of 20 minutes, 6 seconds.
Layna, while only an eighth grader this season, could be one of the team's top runners if she continues to build up her miles and maintain a high level of fitness throughout the course of the season.
While an early start to the season has caught the Jays a bit unawares in the first couple of weeks, Gardner said that he has made it clear to his squad that it isn't about where they are mile and pace-wise in August.
"It's not about where you are at at the first meet," Gardner said. "It's about where you are at at the last meet. It'll be good to get it going, that's for sure."