Young Jackson Heights cross country team has bright future ahead
New Jackson Heights cross country coach Brad Alley is in a familiar spot and not just because he returned to his alma mater this fall.
Already, Alley said he is noticing similarities between the 2015 Cobra cross country runners and his first squad at Royal Valley High School.
That, too, was a predominantly young group, just like the Cobras who have 30 runners out for both the high school and middle school teams and only three seniors.
Alley’s déjà vu continues as he noted the Royal Valley girls struggled for numbers in his first year just as Heights will this fall, not having enough to field a full team, but fostering the middle school program turned that around for the Panthers and the coach sees the same scenario playing out for the Cobras in the near future.
Regarding this season, Alley believes the team will still be in good shape overall, especially after the coach saw how the runners responded after using one of his old tactics and testing the Cobras in a rigorous practice on Monday.
“I usually do a really tough practice early in the year just to see where we’re at, how we’re going to respond and I was pleasantly surprised with, top to bottom, how we responded and the toughness this team’s going to have,” Alley said.
While Jackson Heights may be overloaded with freshmen and sophomore runners this season, the few seniors Alley has on the team have set an excellent example for those underclassmen so far.
Seniors Brianna Cattrell and Lane Holliday are not only leading the way, but Alley said they also spend plenty of time giving positive feedback to their young teammates to keep them pushing forward.
“They’re encouraging the young runners. They’re willing to go out and cheer on people instead of socializing when they’re done. That’s helped a lot,” Alley said.
Jackson Heights’ juniors fall in that group as well, serving as good role models, with runners like Alexis Rieschick and Mark Mavrovich helping set the tone.
That said, Alley noted the young runners are also very talented in their own right, mentioning that his top two runners on the girls team, currently, are a freshman (Faith Little) and a sophomore (Hanna Davault).
It’s a similar situation for the boys, as Alley said sophomores Andrew Pino and Dalton Chartier are among his top three runners and a year’s worth of experience is only going to help them more.
“You hope those two can progress and become better runners and I think you’ll see them become better runners this year and I think you’ll just see them get stronger,” Alley said.
Overall, with a strong junior class to add into that mix along with a couple of dual-sport athletes, Alley said this could be one of the most well-rounded groups he’s ever coached.
“The top seven is going to be as competitive as I can remember having a top seven in my nine years of being in cross country as a coach,” Alley said. “When you can create competition like that, that’s going to bring success. That’s what I hope to come out of that.”
While the situation will be a little different for the girls, not having the required numbers to compete as a team, the coach said he is still working to help them grasp the individual competition and set them up for success, which is the goal for all the Cobras.
In his time as a head coach, Alley noted there has been little fluctuation in team goals. Each season, the object is to reap as much postseason success as possible at the league, regional and state meets by progressively getting better each day.
Right now, Alley believes his team has fallen in line with that thinking and is properly motivated. While that is the case now as the Cobras set a base and get settled in at practice, the coach will wait and see how his runners respond when his two-week training cycle kicks in and he starts rotating between tough hill, tough speed and tough distance workouts.
If the early signs are any indication, though, the Cobras can handle it and that may play in the team’s advantage over the course of the fall.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any teams that work harder than us. That’s a pretty high compliment, I think, for a group of high school runners,” Alley said. “I can’t stress enough how impressed I’ve been with the work ethic.”
Change is a common theme for the Jackson County cross country teams in 2015, but the Cobras are taking it in stride. Alley said his runners have already adapted to him as a coach and he expects the female runners to handle the change in course distance with similar aplomb. Alley says he expects big things from the young Cobras this fall.
Jackson Heights will begin the competitive cross country season with a meet in Holton at Banner Creek Reservoir on Thursday, Sept. 10 starting at 4 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Alexis Rieschick, jr., All-League in 2014
Brianna Cattrell, sr., All-League in 2014
Braden Dohl, so.
Andrew Pino, so.
Dalton Chartier, so.
Westin Jacobsen, sr.
Lane Holliday, sr.
Mark Mavrovich, jr.
Ethan Fund, jr.