The Tigers boys are bidding for their first district title, while the girls are taking aim at their fifth in a row.
In recent years, the Central girls cross country team has entered the district meet as one of the favorites to win, while the Tigers' boys entered the meet just looking to secure a top-four spot and a sectional berth.
Qualifying for the sectional meet is still the top goal for both teams, but this year the boys look primed to bring home a district title of their own.
"Typically, we go into district feeling we have a good shot at getting through. This year both teams have a legitimate shot to win," Central coach Mark Hahn said.
Added senior Dan Austin: "We have a shot at winning district, and no boys team has won district at Cape Central."
Central, along with Jackson, will run in the nine-team Class 4 District 1 meet Saturday at Jackson City Park. The top four teams in the boys and girls race along with the top 30 individuals qualify for the sectional meet.
Veterans John Kipper and Austin, both seniors, are having career years. Kipper has been at or near the top of the finishers in nearly every race the Tigers have run this season. Like many runners on the team, Kipper has set his own personal record during the season.
"We use John as our lead guy," Austin said. "Every time we race, we know if we're that far away from him we're on pace, because he's always on pace. You know he's always going to be up there."
Austin has run in the No. 2 spot for the Tigers throughout the year. At the SEMO Conference meet last week Austin finished third overall, 22 seconds behind race runner-up Kipper.
"Each year I seem to have my normal times, but this year it's come together and I'm PR-ing almost every race," Austin said.
Added Hahn: "It's fun to see Dan have this kind of year because he's been with us since he was in eighth grade. We've always known the potential was there."
Putting the Tigers over the top this season has been the emergence of newcomers Eddie Glenn and Tyler Yeargain. Glenn made the move to cross country from soccer for his senior year. Yeargain, a state qualifier in wrestling, played football last year as a sophomore.
Hahn said he could not have predicted the impact Glenn and Yeargain would have on the squad.
"Both of them got info from me in the spring about summer running, so I was hopeful [they'd run]," he said. "You don't anticipate a new kid will run down in the 17:00's like Eddie and Tyler. It allowed us to start thinking about conference championships and district championships."
Glenn, who has run in the No. 3 spot most of the season, missed the conference meet with an injury, but will likely run on Saturday. Yeargain finished eighth at the conference meet, as the Tigers claimed both boys and girls conference titles.
Yeargain said switching from football to cross country has been an experience, but with his competitive attitude he was determined to make the most of it.
"In any sport I do, I really won't let myself lose," he said. "I don't have the mental capacity to let myself do it. But I didn't think I'd start the varsity in one go."
Yeargain said his initial plan was just to practice with the team to stay in shape.
"I was just going to go to practice and work out, but they asked me to go to the races," Yeargain said.
Central's fifth runner has not been as stable, but both Bryan Schott and Dale Brannock ran strong races at the conference meet. Schott finished 10th while Brannock was 14th.
"That's the story of every year," Hahn said of finding a No. 5 runner. "Just this year, we may have found a No. 5 guy. Both of them had big races for us at conference."
In the girls race, Central will try to win its fifth straight district title. The Tigers lost two of their top runners from last season but have used three freshmen to help the team continue its success.
"That's one of those pleasant surprises," Hahn said. "You have to appreciate those years because they don't come around often."
Brittany Moreland, one of those freshmen, was the individual champion at the SEMO Conference meet.
"I expected her to contribute on the varsity level, but contributing and being conference champion are two different things," Hahn said.
Jackson's girls will also be looking for a return trip to the sectional meet. Amy Sterling, a sophomore, finished second at the conference meet. Fellow sophomore Beth Barton was sixth at the conference meet.
On the boys side, freshman Greg Gibson had the highest showing at last week's conference meet, finishing seventh. Jackson had two boys qualify for the sectional meet last season, including David Welker, who finished 11th at the conference meet.