BY CHAD DARE
Danville’s Johnny Leverenz has always thought of himself as a long-distance runner.
Before this season, the junior had qualified for the IHSA Class 3A State Track Meet in both his freshman and sophomore seasons in the 1,600-meter race.
On Friday afternoon, Leverenz ran the state’s fastest 800 in winning his heat and advancing to today’s finals in the Class 3A state meet at O’Brien Stadium.
“I really just wanted to win the heat so that I was definitely in the finals,’’ he said after breaking his own school record in the race. “This race has been working out good for me this year.’’
Ironically, Leverenz didn’t start running the race until this season when he took fourth at the indoor state meet back in March.
“Early in the indoor season, we threw him in the 4-by-4 (1,600 relay), which we had before, but he ran a 53 (second) split in the first indoor meet,’’ Danville coach Todd Orvis said. “We hadn’t done any speed work, and he was just doing it off of running miles during the winter.
“We thought that he probably should be able to run the 800. He likes running the 800. It was a no-brainer.’’
But, Orvis isn’t convinced that it’s the best race for Leverenz.
“I told him from day one, probably as a freshman, that I thought his best race was the 2-mile (3,200),’’ Orvis said. “He disagrees with that, but I still believe that. I didn’t know he had this potential in the 800.
“At this point, we are going to let him do what he wants to do. He has proven he can run any distance race.’’
Leverenz agreed with his coach, but he is starting to think a little differently now.
“I thought of myself as more of a long-distance runner, but now that I’ve been running good times in this, I think I’m more of a middle distance runner in track,’’ he said after running the 80th fastest time in the Nation on Friday.
Before Friday’s prelims, Leverenz wasn’t getting very much respect from the state-wide websites.
“No one really recognized him as a threat,’’ Orvis said. “One of the state media websites didn’t even mention him with a potential to win it.’’
If the prelims are any indication, Leverenz has a shot at becoming the 13th individual state champion in Danville history and its first since Theotto Lillard won the 300 hurdles in 2001.
“I like being the underdog, but I also like seeing my name at the top,’’ said Leverenz about his status after Friday’s prelims.
And what about breaking his school record?
“I think it means that I have one more day this year to set another one,’’ he said.
According to Orvis, he doesn’t believe being the top-seed will affect Leverenz in today’s final.
“The coaches and I were talking — he hasn’t been pushed all the way to the line this year. Today, he was,’’ Orvis said. “We knew there was some room for improvement, we didn’t know how much.
“Being the top seed out of the prelims is the best case scenario.’’
According to Leverenz the first lap in 55.6 seconds felt a little slower than normal, “but the second lap was a killer — especially that last 100 meters.’’
That’s where Leverenz passed Matt Anyiwo of Homewood-Flossmoor and held of Alex Gasca of Maine West. Gasca had the second fastest time in the prelims.
And he hopes to repeat that performance in today’s finals.
In addition to Leverenz running in the 800 finals during today’s state meet, sophomore Caleb Hummer will also represent the Vikings in the 3,200.