Lucas Jackson doesn’t want to miss the state meet again.
As a junior on the Santa Monica High boys cross-country team last season, Jackson qualified for the CIF Southern Section championships at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.
But his top-20 finish wasn’t enough to earn him a trip to the state competition, a shortcoming that is motivating him as he and the Vikings enter their 2015 season under longtime coach Tania Fischer.
“It was so close,” Fischer said. “We’re looking for him to lead our team, and our goal is to go to CIF finals.”
It’s shaping up to be a promising fall for the Vikings, whose campaign begins Sept. 5 with the Cool Breeze Invitational at El Prado Golf Course in Chino. Their first Ocean League meet is scheduled for Sept. 24 at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles.
Joining Jackson in this year’s top five at Samohi are fellow seniors Biruke Alemu, Jon Trinh and Dylan Hernandez as well as junior Steve Navin. The quintet will be angling for position against other athletes in the section’s talented Division I, which features defending champion Burroughs/Burbank as well as Dana Hills and Great Oak.
“He’s pulling along his teammates,” Fischer said of Jackson. “But we do have returnees who will support him.”
Among the highlights of the Vikings’ upcoming season is a trip to Oregon for the Nike Portland XC Invite, which will be held Sept. 26 and feature hundreds of runners from multiple states.
Fischer said the event will help Jackson gain exposure outside of California.
“I want to get him on a national stage so his recruiting will be at a higher level,” she said. “It will also give our team that experience to make it to CIF finals and hopefully to the state meet.”
The squad boasts ample varsity experience and has been training hard for the forthcoming campaign, recently taking a trip to the Mammoth Lakes area for a preseason camp.
Even if Samohi doesn’t qualify for the state competition as a team, Jackson could earn a bid as an individual. He is hoping to become Samohi’s first state representative since Arden Lassalle, who placed 57th at the state meet in 2013 after winning a conference title.
Jackson has made improvements since coming up short at last year’s section championships.
He showed his potential last season, finishing with a time of 10 minutes 24 seconds in the 2-mile Palos Verdes Invitational and clocking a 15:04 in the 3-mile Dana Hills Invitational.
Jackson then won a league title in 16:29 and ran a 15:28 at the section championships in Fresno, where fewer than two dozen runners recorded sub-15:30 times in a field of nearly 120 athletes.
In February, he placed seventh in the boys mile with a time of 4 minutes 28.25 seconds at the indoor track and field state championships in Fresno.
Fischer is confident that Jackson can return to Fresno for the state cross-country meet in late November.
“I think Lucas will make it to the state meet,” she said.