BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — CHAMPAIGN — Danville senior Johnny Leverenz and his coach Todd Orvis are focused on the big picture heading down the stretch of the cross country season.
Leverenz took his first step toward the IHSA Class 2A State Meet with relatively easy victory in Saturday’s Class 2A regional meet at the University of Arborteum.
“I felt pretty solid until about a mile to go. I got a little tight, but I was able to keep going strong until the end,’’ said Leverenz, whose winning time was exactly 15 minutes over the 2.96-mile course.
Mahomet-Seymour sophomore Alex Keeble was second with a time of 15:29, but he spent most of the race more than 50 yards behind Leverenz.
“It’s good and bad to break away from the field,’’ Leverenz said. “It lets me see how I can run by myself, but I really need to be prepared for competition when I get to state.
“I came in expecting to win, but I also expected a closer race.’’
Orvis also thought that Keeble would give Leverenz a tougher race.
“Johnny like to run up front,’’ Orvis said. “I figured if he got out to a big lead that he would break everyone else.’’
And that’s exactly what happened for the IHSA Class 3A state track champion in the 800 meters, who was running the course at the Arborteum for the first-time ever.
“My goal was just to stay on course and not get distracted,’’ Leverenz said. “Thankfully, they had it marked really well, and I just had to concentrate on running my race.
“I feel really solid and I feel like I’m in a really good place. Coach has prepared me really well for these last few races.’’
According to Orvis, Leverenz hasn’t even started to taper this season.
“Nothing has changed with him as far as training,’’ Orvis said. “We will start to taper about midweek. We start that about 10 days out from the big one (state meet). When we rest him a little bit, he will be right on the money.’’
Leverenz isn’t the only male runner from Danville that will be making the trip to Decatur for the Class 2A sectional. The Vikings finished an impressive fourth-place in the regional, qualifying as a team for the sectional meet.
“That’s very important, and it should keep the morale of the team up this week,’’ Leverenz said. “It’s good to have some guys to practice with this week. I like to see what we can do at sectionals as a team.’’
The Danville girls team also secured a spot in the Class 2A sectional meet with sixth-place finish on Saturday.
“That was the goal coming into today,’’ said Orvis of getting both teams into sectionals. “With the guys, I figured we would land about fifth or sixth, so I was pleasantly surprised with a fourth.
“With the girls, I thought they could be anywhere from third to fifth. Having a girl drop out with an injury, didn’t help our cause, but I’m glad the rest of the girls were able to pick it up and get through.’’
Danville’s Caylin Smith injured her ankle on Saturday and senior Linna Shutt came through for the Vikings. Shutt, who was the No. 5 runner for Danville on Saturday, ran a personal best of 22:59, finishing 43rd in the race.
“The panic button was definitely hit,’’ Orvis admitted. “Linna Shutt ended up being our fifth runner, and luckily for us, she ran a minute faster than she has ran all year. Her race was the key to our success. That’s probably a first for her career — Linna Shutt was the runner of the meet.’’
Orvis said that contribution proves that cross country is more than having a top individual runner.
“Depth is such a key to cross country,’’ he said. “It’s something that we’ve rarely had on the girls side. This year, we have eight runners, we sat one that was sick and we lost one during the race. But as coach B.J. Luke always says, ‘the next one in line has to step up.’”
Danville sophomore Sadie Elliott, the regional and sectional champion last year, was fifth on Saturday with a time of 19:02.
“I didn’t come into this race, expecting to win,’’ said Elliott, who has struggled at times this season. “I came in expecting to get fourth or fifth and I got what I expected.
“I did good today for how my season has been.’’
Orvis points out that no one in Saturday’s regional meet or anyone in next week’s sectional meet has run a time faster than Elliott ran a year ago in earning all-state honors.
“There is no reason that she can’t run that time again this year,’’ he said. “I don’t know if it’s a mental block, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her run really well next weekend or the weekend after that. She just needs one really good race to give her that confidence.’’
Elliott admits that her confidence level isn’t real high right now. A year ago, she beat Champaign Central’s Hannah Wright in every race and the tables have been turned this season.
“I feel like there is a lot of pressure on me to win,’’ she said. “That has affected me a lot. But after taking with my coaches and my teammates, I keep telling myself that I still have two more years.’’
The IHSA Class 2A sectional meet at Hickory Point Golf Course in Forsyth is set for noon next Saturday. The IHSA Class 1A sectional meet will start at 10 a.m.