With sophomore Brittany Moreland winning her second straight SEMO Conference individual title in girls cross country and teammate Veronica Schabbing finishing second, Central had a good head start toward its eighth straight league championship Thursday at Jackson City Park.
But the Tigers, using three junior varsity runners in their first varsity meet, needed the fifth-place performance from junior Tiffany Mead, a middle-distance standout in track, to hold off Jackson 35-39 for the team title.
"She dropped more than 30 seconds from her personal best," Central coach Mark Hahn said of Mead. "That was huge for us. If she doesn't step up there, we don't win."
Mead finished under 22 minutes for the first time this season, crossing the line on the 3.1-mile course in 21:21.
Moreland cruised the course in 19:57.14, less than a second ahead of Schabbing's 19:55.55. Schabbing, also a sophomore, broke the 20-minute mark for the first time in her prep running career. Jessie Hahn placed 13th and, of the JV group that Hahn elevated Thursday, Ali Yuen was Central's fifth runner in 14th place. Brianna Egbuka, a state qualifier last spring in the shot put, was 15th for Central.
Central hopes to be healthier when it returns to Jackson City Park on Saturday for the Class 4 District 1 meet.
"I try to be hypersensitive with injuries," Hahn said. "It's not fun when you're hurt, and a big part of this is supposed to be fun."
Jackson also has been resting some key runners, making its second-place finish and near-triumph noteworthy.
After Moreland, Schabbing and Notre Dame's Tori Pfau crossed the finish line, the Indians had three of the next four finishers with Casey Hatton (fourth), Beth Barton (sixth) and Mandy Craven (seventh).
Jackson managed that without Amy Sterling, a junior who was a state qualifier last year.
"The rest of the girls ran well and did their best," said Jackson coach Andrea Talley, whose team got a lift from freshmen Amber Crites (12th) and Jordan Whitener (19th). "We're more concerned now with getting individuals through the sectional."
She knows that will be a tough task with several powerhouse St. Louis County teams in the mix for the state-qualifying spots.
Notre Dame picked up its first SEMO Conference boys title, posting a score of 30 to Jackson's 60.
The Bulldogs, coach Bill Davis said, were on a high after beating Class 3 district Ste. Genevieve last weekend at Potosi, where they also finished well ahead of Central and Jackson.
"The biggest thing we have to fight is complacency right now," said Davis, whose team returns to Potosi on Saturday. "They've had some success, and it's a natural thing for them to relax."
The Bulldogs, Class 2 state champions last year before the enrollment bump, have a chance to run off a few SEMO Conference crowns if they can battle complacency and injuries.
Their varsity lineup Thursday featured several youngsters: sophomore Logan Davis, the coach's son, in third; junior Neil Kanneberg in fourth; freshman Wynn McClellan in eighth; junior Ben Beussink in ninth; and junior Richie Bohn in 15th. Senior Jon Ramsey was fifth overall, while sophomore Dillon Klaffer, the team's second runner at Potosi, rested an injury.
Notre Dame also won the boys JV race with a perfect score (see below).
Although Central finished third, behind Jackson after the Tigers had beaten the Indians last week at Potosi, Hahn was pleased with the team's effort.
"Our boys really ran well," he said. "We had three or four PRs and that's what you look for as a coach."
Notre Dame sophomore Tori Pfau impressed Davis with her third-place finish Thursday.
"She is running fantastic," Davis said. "She doesn't run in the summer -- she does a lot of walking and riding her bike -- so she doesn't have a lot of miles in like the other kids when she comes to me in the fall. She's just a trooper. To run with Schabbing and Moreland like she did today was great."
Thursday's championship teams seem to be in good shape if the JV results are any indication.
Notre Dame capped its unbeaten season with the perfect score of 15. The Bulldogs were paced by a senior, Brian Milbach, who won the race in 18:25.
The Central JV girls scored 23 points to win their event. Central's Audrey Westrich won the race in 24:14.