De Soto’s Johnson clears path to state for Wildcat runners
A reversal of fortune saw the boys and girls De Soto cross country teams flip their luck at regionals.
Last year, the girls fo llowed the lead of a couple of freshmen to the state cross country meet in Wamego. But an injury forced Andrea Young to miss a good portion of her sophomore season, and Carrie Wilbert had an up-and-down season as the girls struggled down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the boys team earned a state berth on the strength of Casey Johnson's talent and experience and the emergence of several freshmen.
Johnson saw his three-meet winning streak come to an end at regionals as he struggled to a faster than usual pace. He still managed second place after running his second-best time.
"The pace was pretty fast to start out," De Soto coach Chris McAfee said. "Casey looked tired and didn't appear to have any strength. He looked as if he was ready to let them (leaders) go, but he hung in there. Then the top three guys sprinted to the finish, and he came in second."
Usual No. 2 runner, Donnie Gardner, ran into the same challenge as Johnson, but finished 18th with a time of 17 minutes and 53-seconds. His fast starts have been a recent concern for McAfee.
"I think it was a matter of nerves at the beginning," McAfee said. "We've been working on getting him out a little slower in races. In three of the last four races, he's been getting out too fast. I think a lot of it is being unsure how to approach races."
Chris Peterson ran his personal best race and was one of the reasons the Wildcats placed as well as they did. His time of 17:45 was good for 15th place.
Tanner McNamara ran a personal record 17:48 and was the third Wildcat to cross the finish line in the s16th position.
Despite not earning medals, Adam Wilcox (35th, 19:11), Matt Woywod (36th, 19:14) and Alex Wayne (41st, 19:36) all played key roles in the success of the Wildcats.
"We couldn't have done it without those ot her guys," McAfee said. "Everybody but Casey and Donnie ran personal bests. They all turned in really good races."
Carrie Wilbert was the only member of the girls team to qualify for the state meet. She paced the Wildcat attack to a fifth-place finish and 113 team points with a 15th best time of 13:02.
"She started off well," McAfee said of Wilbert. "After about three-quarters of a mile she was right where she wanted to be. But then she started to fade and didn't really compete.
"I don't have the answer. I don't know what the magic word is. She was fading and fading, and then she dug in. But by then she had already given up 30 seconds to people."
Melissa Roberts just missed qualifying by three seconds when she clocked in at a 20th-place time of 13:12.
Morgan Frehe, who had been ailing all week, was the third Wildcat across the line in a 24th-place time of 13:24. While Young (26th, 13:30), who was trying to return from an injury, and Katie James (32nd, 13:39) rounded out the runners for De Soto.
Despite her inconsistent year, McAfee thinks Wilbert can have a strong finish at the state meet Saturday in Wamego.
"The top two girls at our regional were from Eudora," McAfee said. "They will both medal at state, and Carrie beat them both this year. I believe that she can medal if she runs like she is capable."
McAfee said that he would have a more guided role in Wilbert's preparations for the state meet."The hilly course they have in Wamego is what he likes, so it plays into his hand," the coach said. "I really wouldn't be surprised if he won
the whole thing. When he gets something in his mind that he wants to do, he usually comes through."
McAfee also cherished the thought of beating Tonganoxie again after losing to them at the Kaw Valley League meet, especially because that meet was the first time the Wildcats lost to the Chieftains all year.
As for Johnson, McAfee predicts a finish somewhere between second and tenth. But he wouldn't be surprised if Johnson finished in the top spot either.