Pictured on the front cover is the 2010 Jay County High School girls cross country team. Front row from left are Miranda Gerber, Abigail Johnson, Kaitlin Hemmelgarn and Madison Clott. Middle row are Liz Lennartz, Eme Miller, Katie Simmons, Julie Valentine and Megan Price. Back row are Leah Wellman, Logan Laux and Megan Taylor.
Pictured on the front cover is the 2010 Jay County High School girls cross country team. Front row from left are Miranda Gerber, Abigail Johnson, Kaitlin Hemmelgarn and Madison Clott. Middle row are Liz Lennartz, Eme Miller, Katie Simmons, Julie Valentine and Megan Price. Back row are Leah Wellman, Logan Laux and Megan Taylor.
No squad at Jay County High School has had more success recently than the girls cross country team.
They have four consecutive sectional titles, and back-to-back regional titles to prove it. Only two other JCHS teams — boys basketball in 2006 and boys soccer in 2008 — have won a regional crown since 1993.
Yet even with all of that success, the Patriots’ final meet of the season has left a bitter taste in their mouth each of the last three years. After finishing seventh at the semi-state meet in 2006, they have been 14th in 2007, 16th in 2008 and a disappointing 19th in 2009.
A focus for the coming season will be to not only defend their sectional and regional titles, but to put greater focus on making a run at a state berth.
“One thing we are going to change this year is, I think in the past … semi-state has always been kind of a destination,” said JCHS coach Brian McEvoy. “As long as it’s a destination, we’re never going to be able to go and perform well there. …
“This year we’re going to go for broke. We’re going to try to go to the state meet. … I think that needs to be the goal this year.”
The Patriots have the personnel chase their goals as they return four of their top five runners from last season.
Tops among them is junior Katie Simmons, who was the sectional runner-up in 20 minutes, 31 seconds last season. Senior Leah Wellman placed fifth in the sectional in 20:56.
“Their will and determination makes them good,” said McEvoy. “It’s all they’ve got all the time. They’re mentally tough. They see the big picture … and they really help push the other girls.”
 Megan Taylor, a senior who was in her first year running cross country last season, was 13th in the sectional in 21:53. Another senior, Logan Laux, rounds out the group of returning leaders after placing 15th in 22:00.16 in the 2009 sectional.
Those four runners filled the top four sports for the Patriots in the regional meet a week later with Simmons finishining fifth, and Wellman eighth. The team’s only loss to graduation is Kari Hemmelgarn, who led the squad with a gutsy race in the semi-state meet at IPFW.
 Liz Lennartz and Julie Valentine held down the remaining to spots in the JCHS starting lineup last year and will also be back this season.
And there is an influx of new runners as well with junior Eme Miller, who will be in her first year running cross country, and freshman Abigail Johnson already pushing Simmons and Wellman in practice.
“Right now, just watching our workouts, it looks like really Eme (Miller) and Abigail (Johnson) and Leah (Wellman) and Katie Simmons should all really be fighting for that top spot,” said McEvoy. “I really don’t know that it couldn’t be a different one of those four at any time. … They get very little separation when they run.”
The team also adds sophomore Megan Price and freshmen Miranda Gerber, Kaitlin Hemmelgarn and Madison Clott.
With four runners who have the ability to run sub-21 minutes, at least two more that can run sub-22 and several more pushing for the final spot in the starting lineup, the Patriots are loaded with potential and depth.
“Depth is everything in this sport,” said McEvoy. “You can win the sectional individually, but if you’re fifth (runner) is bad, you’re not going to win the (team) sectional championship.”
The deep roster is also making practice competitive, which should pay off for JCHS in the long run.
“They’re not going to let each other back off,” McEvoy said. “They all want to be No. 1. I think it’s pushing people, and I think it’s going to make everybody better overall.”
Jay County’s boys team has not enjoyed the same level of success as the girls, although Tevan Nichols had an impressive individual year last season. He finished as the sectional runner-up and advanced to the semi-state meet.
But the Patriots did not have enough runners for a full team last season, and that will be the case again this year. The roster sports just three athletes, with only Zach Johnson returning from the 2009 squad.
Joining him are first-year junior Tyler Osburne and freshman Chaz Carroll.
“It’s a rebuilding process and we’re just trying to get guys who want to run and improve,” McEvoy said. “That’s our goal with them, that they improve throughout the year.”