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Jefferson City cross country begins season at Jim Marshall Invitational

September 5, 2015 at 5:00 a.m. | Updated September 5, 2015 at 5:00 a.m.

The Jefferson City girls cross country team finished ninth at last year's state meet and the boys came in 13th. Coach Brett Phillips' goal for his team is to take the next step forward, beginning today at the Jim Marshall Invitational.

"That's absolutely, positively our goal," he said. "I feel like our girls are ahead of where we were a year ago, and I feel like my boys are definitely ahead of where they were a year ago. So yeah, that's our goal. Our goal is to be in the top half of the state-meet field with a puncher's chance at the trophies, and our goal is that every single year."

On the boys side, the Jays return five of their seven runners from the state team. Leading the pack is junior Jackson Schwartz, an all-sectional runner who finished 26th at state and fourth in the 3,200-meter run in this past spring's state track meet. Behind him is fellow all-sectional runner Saxon Teubner, a senior who finished 65th at state, second on the team.

Phillips said it's a plus for the boys to have their top two runners back.

"It's also nice to have a couple of guys who run 80 miles a week all summer back," he said. "That's nice, too. And two guys who were in successful in track. They ran stud track times."

Phillips said all seven of the varsity boys runners participated in track in the spring, and the work has paid off.

"That's pretty significant," he said. "Our boys had some real breakthroughs on the track. That's important. That translates directly to the fall."

Behind team captains Schwartz and Teubner are senior Courtney Fitch, who took 125th at the state cross country meet, and sophomore Cole Biesemeyer, who was 147th. Junior Brendan Bena has worked his way into a varsity spot after qualifying for state track in the mile race.

Freshman Landon Dunlap and sophomore Jeff Dodson are also new additions to the Jays' top seven. Nipping at their heels are juniors Josh Sabala and Dylan Fischer, sophomore Tucker Cox and senior Will Theroff. That competition is crucial, Phillips said.

"If you don't have internal competition, you're probably not a very successful team," he said. "We haven't been as successful as we want to be, but you're definitely sunk if you don't have people scrapping for that seventh spot."

On the girls side, Jefferson City faces a bit more turnover. The Lady Jays lost three runners from their ninth-place state team to graduation, including top finisher Kaley Ruff.

Phillips is impressed with how the girls have filled those big shoes.

"What's made the transition pretty smooth is my girls have stepped up from a leadership standpoint," he said. "The team captains are (seniors) Lindsey Biesemeyer and Brenna Duncan, and they've got the climate right where I want it. We haven't missed a beat on that. It's smooth sailing on the girls side. We lost good leaders, but we have good leaders."

All-sectional sophomore McKenzie Gourley is the top returning runner from last year's state meet, in which she finished 75th. Finishing behind her at 95th was Kayelee Payton, now a sophomore. Sophomore Katie Ruth earned all-sectional honors as a freshman and took 106th at state. Biesemeyer was all-sectional as well and finished 110th at state.

Behind Duncan are fellow senior Ryan Esterline and junior Brianne Bechtel.

"(Working hard) all summer long is what got them where they are," Phillips said. "No prior accolades."

Juniors Bailey Conrad and Alivia Bopp, senior Savannah Bopp and sophomore Laura Sherwood are all competing for varsity time.

As with the boys, Phillips hopes for the Lady Jays to win districts and sectionals. Both teams took second at districts and second in sectionals last season.

Jefferson City begins that quest today at Cole County Park for the fifth edition of the Jim Marshall Invitational. Phillips hopes for Jefferson City to win all four divisions - two varsity and two JV - as it did last year.

"We feel like we ought to be able to do that," he said. "Helias will field two good teams as they always do. We believe Wentzville Holt and Battle will both give us a pretty stiff test, and then Fatima. Fatima is the best small-school program in the state. On the girls side, the way people talk, they're just a godawful power this year, so it'd be pretty difficult to beat them, but that's our goal nonetheless."


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