BY CHAD DARE
A simple experiment during the indoor season turned into an outdoor state championship.
Danville junior Johnny Leverenz became the 13th individual in school history to win boys state championship when he won the 800-meter race at Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A State Track Meet at O’Brien Stadium.
“It’s a great experience to win state,’’ said a jubilant Leverenz, who is normally very mild mannered. “I’ve been waiting to do this since my freshman season.’’
But Leverenz never dreamt of winning the state title in the 800, he and his coach, Todd Orvis, always thought his state title would come in the 1,600.
Leverenz, a two-time state qualifier in the 1,600, got his chance at the 800 during the indoor season this past year.
“Up until this year, I was thinking my event was the mile (1,600),’’ Leverenz said. “At the state indoor meet, that was the first time that I broke 2 minutes.
“That was a big goal for me to break that big barrier.’’
And things just kept getting faster and faster for the Danville junior, who was fourth at the state indoor meet.
In the early weeks of the outdoor season, Leverenz had the state’s fastest time in the 800, but not even that had convinced him that he had a shot at the state title.
“I was shocked when that happened,’’ said Leverenz of his run in Springfield on April 6th. “I figured that would go down pretty quickly, but it stayed up there for a couple of weeks.’’
Leverenz really didn’t consider himself a state contender until the Class 3A sectional meet at Homewood-Flossmoor last week.
“I dropped my personal best by two seconds that night,’’ said Leverenz, who also broke the school’s record that night. “That’s when I started to realize that I had a shot at the state title.’’
But, as Orvis pointed out on Friday, he still didn’t get the respect from some of the state-wide websites.
That changed after the prelims when Leverenz once again had the fastest time, broke his own school record and ran the 80th fastest 800 in the nation.
But, his coaches (Orvis and Steve Luke) saw something in the video that Leverenz needed to do differently in Saturday’s Finals.
“I knew I had to get a better start than I did on Friday,’’ he said. “In the prelims, I was in lane (No. 7) through the curve and that meant I had to run a longer race than the other guys in my heat.’’
And how did his start go in the finals?
“I got really quickly and I had the lead for almost the whole race,’’ he said.
But, that didn’t keep the junior from looking over his shoulder in the final 25 meters. Leverenz set a new school record with his winning time of 1 minute, 53.28 seconds
“I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular, but I heard the announcer saying something about someone coming up,’’ he said. “I didn’t want anyone take that from me at the finish line.
“I get a little worried sometimes in that race.’’
That’s because Leverenz is a distant guy moving down the middle distance while most of the top 800 runners are sprinters moving up from the 400.
“My strength in this event is my endurance,’’ he said. “The other guys are relying on their kicks at the end, while I rely on staying strong and steady for the entire race.
“I had to be in the lead, because I can’t trust my kick against those sprinters in the final 200.’’
The last male athlete to win a state championship at Danville High was Theotto Lillard in the 300 hurdles at the 2001 state meet.
“We’ve had a lot of great athletes at Danville High, and it’s great to be part of that history as a state champion,’’ said Leverenz, whose name will be etched into a brick at the Wayland-Young Athletic Complex, along with Danville senior Alexus Jimson-Miller, who won the 100 hurdles at last week’s girls state track meet.
“I was really proud of our girls track team and I thought that Alexus could have won two events last week,’’ Leverenz said.
With Jimson-Miller and Leverenz collecting first-place medals, Danville High is just one of two Class 3A programs with a state champion in both weekends. Edwardsville was the other school to accomplish that feat.
“I think that is pretty cool to have a state champion from both the boys and girls team in the same year,’’ Leverenz said. “The teams are not separate. We all get along really well and we practice together.
“It’s good environment for track.’’
Danville sophomore Caleb Hummer was 30th in the 3,200 on Saturday. Hummer, a two-time state qualifier, dropped his time by more than a minute on Saturday to 9:44.56