Johnson rocks Lawrence meet
Runners from across the Midwest filtered into Lawrence for what was one of the classic high school cross country meets in the country Saturday.
The Rim Rock Farm Classic gives cross country and track and field enthusiasts the opportunity to watch athletes from several states compete in three different divisions, depending on the talent level of their team.
One of the area runners who took advantage of the opportunity to strut his stuff was De Soto's Casey Johnson. The senior posted the second-best time of his career at what coach Chris McAfee called one of the more grueling cross country tracks around.
The course features a steep hill in the latter stages of the trail that is only 30 to 40 meters long. But after the course levels off, another incline of 80 to 90 meters tends to slow people down and sometimes even psyches them out.
Johnson, who took fourth individually in 17 minutes, 7.79 seconds, wasn't psyched during his run in the blue division. He gutted out one of the best performances of his career on the 5,000-meter course. He ran the best time in his career of 17:06 last week at the Wamego Invitational.
Johnson led most of the way Saturday until he was passed by individual medalist Chris Clymer of Lincoln (Neb.) North Star with about a mile left in the race.
After fading back a few spots, Johnson recovered, passed several runners, and crept back into second place. He eventually had to settle for fourth.
But it wasn't just Johnson who had McAfee smiling after the meet. His entire team has him thinking about a conference championship and the Wildcats' first trip to the state meet since 1995.
"We had some guys who really gutted out tough races Saturday," McAfee said. "We still have a long way to go. But I say that because I think we can go a long way."
In order to assure themselves the opportunity to do the best they can, several Wildcat runners are running twice a day (6 a.m. and after school) after hearing that other schools were doing the same. Team balance is proof the work is paying off.
Donnie Gardner, who also medaled, was the second Wildcat to cross the finish line. His time of 18:06 netted him a 22nd-place medal.
"He was out too slow," McAfee said. "But he ran guys down in the stretch."
Chris Peterson (44th, 19:08), Tanner McNamara (55th, 19:18), Matt Woywod (82nd, 20:22) and Adam Wilcox (93rd, 20:47) also ran on the varsity for De Soto.
On the girls side, De Soto had to run its first race without the services of No. 1-runner Andrea Young, who reaggravated a stress fracture in her left foot at the Wamego Invitational last weekend.
The injury ended the sophomore's season early and put the Wildcats in a bad spot, as they are down to just five varsity runners.
Still, the Wildcats managed a sixth-place finish out of 10 teams, and scored 145 points.
Carrie Wilbert was the first Wildcat to finish the 2.5-mile course and earned De Soto's only medal of the meet with a 21st-place best time of 17:42.
McAfee, however, was disappointed in her performance.
"We talked with her about starting the race a little slower than usual," he said. "But instead she went out hard with the leaders. After about three-quarters of a mile, she cashed it in. She is blessed with so much natural speed. There is no reason she shouldn't be a top-five runner."
Morgan Frehe nearly earned a second medal for the girl. but she had to settle for 26th place, one out of medal contention, and a time of 17:45.
Melissa Roberts (30th, 18:02), Katie James (44th, 18:46) and Sarah Jokisch (66th, 20:31) all ran for De Soto as well.
The Wildcats travel to Tonganoxie for the Tonganoxie Invitational at 4 p.m. Thursday. The meet features Mill Valley, Tonganoxie, Lansing and Eudora on the girls side, and Mill Valley, Tonganoxie and Anderson County on the boys side.
McAfee is especially excited about the boys individual race. It pits De Soto's (Casey) Johnson, Jay Matlack (Mill Valley) and David Cox (Anderson County).
"It'll be interesting to see how they all stack up," McAfee said.