Jefferson City cross country is at a bit of a crossroads.
The team has continued to lose numbers since the addition of Capital City High School split his talent pool. A squad that at one point ran around 60 deep is at 20 total kids from the boy's and girl's teams.
"The fact that matters is I'm not doing a good enough job to get them out," Jefferson City coach Brett Phillips said. "I'm responsible for getting healthy numbers. And we're just not right now."
That doesn't mean Phillips is unhappy with his current group that includes talented runners such as Class 5 All-State returnee Tommy Roehl and an up-and-coming group of freshman and sophomores on the girl's side, led by returning state qualifier Ella Jobe.
"I believe I've got 20 kids who want to be out here and work," Phillips said. "I'm more than happy to work with everything that I have right now. That's what we're focusing on right now."
What the lack of numbers does mean is that the Jays are lacking depth to combine with that top-end talent and experience to fill out varsity squads.
"We're working hard at it," Phillips said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about this topic."
One creative solution is something Phillips worked out with soccer coach Scott Blake with sophomore Seth Stumbaugh. Stumbaugh splits practices between soccer and cross country and is the Jays' No. 2 runner on the men's side.
Stumbaugh will be a key runner who will look to get behind Roehl and make an impact for the Jays this postseason.
"There's an open line of communication," Phillips said. "There's mutual respect. We're both committed to not making him feel bad one way or the other."
The boys will only run three varsity runners today at the Jim Marshall Invitational, two short of the number needed to score as a team. The challenge will be getting some new runners up to speed alongside the three varsity runners to be able to round out a squad that can score enough to place well at the team's conference meet in late September and be competitive in the team's district to have a chance at finishing in the top four to qualify for the state meet in Columbia.
Adelaide Jones and Mikayla Cordes will be up at the top of the varsity squad with Jobe, leading a young squad that has Jobe as the returner with the most experience.
Phillips said he would like to get the trio of Jones, Cordes and Jobe to all be able to break 21 minutes in a 5K on a favorable course, one like the relatively flat Gans Creek course where the state race is, but unlike the one where the Jays practice at. That one at Cole County Park is where the season will kick off and was voted by the area as the toughest in the state, per MoMileSplit.com.
"It's a great place to train," Phillips said. "We've got the exact measurements out there. It's a hilly terrain for us. Obviously you can't work out there all the time, but it works well when we go out there."