Jacksonville High School head girls cross country coach Kiff Wiemers received a pleasant surprise when his squad opened fall practice early last week.

Thirty-two girls were on hand to greet Wiemers for the 5:30 a.m. (yes, that's correct, 5:30 a.m.) 5-mile run — the unit has since stretched that distance out to 6 ½ miles, according to Wiemers.

“Normally we have about 20 girls out for cross country,” Wiemers said in an interview on Friday. “Our numbers have been hovering right around 32 which is good because (historically) you normally lose a few kids to burnout or grades as the season progresses.”

While not having an exact breakdown by class, Wiemers did indicate that there are a large number of freshmen that are running this fall.

Sophomore Jasmin Rodriquez is the fastest Maiden runner, just as she was in 2010.

Rodriquez is expected to trim a few ticks off her times this year after participating in summer strength and conditioning workouts at the school.

“We expect Jasmin (Rodriquez) to have a big fall, but it is really nice to see a few of girls are starting to step up and get closer to Jasmin's times to help fill in the gap for us,” Wiemers said.

Wiemers said many of the cross country participants are also soccer players as well and that their commitment put forth in the fall in cross country should filter down and pay returns when soccer camp opens in December.

“Cross country absolutely helps the girls get ready for the soccer season,” Wiemers said. “We look at it like this.

“When December rolls around and we start soccer practice, a lot of our team will be in shape and will have their conditioning in (from cross country), so that will give us more time to actually practice different parts of the game, as opposed to having to take so much time to work on conditioning.”

Wiemers said that the outfit has been able to vary things up and do some running off campus, which they will not be able to do once the girls return to class in late August.

At that time the team will focus more on running on the course that meanders through the high school campus, which will, once again, be the site for the District 14-4A Cross Country Meet.

Speaking of district, Wiemers had this to say about his club's chances.

“I think we are inspired by (last year's performance) and that we will progress this fall,” he said. “By the time district rolls around, I think that we will be much improved.”

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