BY CHAD DARE
Johnny Leverenz and Sadie Elliott came into the cross country season with different expectations.
Leverenz, a junior, was the top returning runner in the Big 12 Conference and Elliott, a freshman, was making her varsity debut.
On Saturday, both runners achieved their goals in the league’s conference meet at Kennekuk County Park.
“It was kind of what we thought, everything panned out the way we thought it would,’’ Danville coach Todd Orvis said.
Leverenz became the first Danville runner to claim the Big 12 title since Ricky Alvarez won it in 2001.
“It’s definitely special,’’ Leverenz said. “It’s been a while since we had an individual or a team winner at Danville.’’
And Leverenz left little doubt about being the best in the Big 12 Conference this season.
The junior took the lead from the start with Bloomington’s Keith Meyer and Sam Doud hanging with Leverenz over the first mile.
Eventually, Leverenz opened up a 10-15 yard lead and he never looked back with a winning time of 15 minutes, 18 seconds as Meyer finished eight seconds behind him.
“My plan was to go out hard, take the lead and hopefully get a gap on them,’’ Leverenz said. “It went really the way that I had hoped it would go and they never caught back up with me.’’
And how did he feel about his time?
“I thought it was a good time,’’ said Leverenz, who was a second faster than his second-place time in last year’s Big 12 meet at Kennekuk.
And that’s exactly what Orvis expected from Leverenz.
“From this meet last year, he was the top returner,’’ said Orvis, as Leverenz was second to Decatur MacArthur’s Michael Clevenger. “He just had to hold off the two Bloomington kids. His race was tough because he was out there by himself.’’
Coming into the season, both Orvis and Leverenz were expecting Danville sophomore Caleb Hummer to be right up there with his teammate.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Hummer has been sidelined for most of this season with an Achilles injury.
“We wanted to get him back going, but the pain has reoccurred and the prognosis is not good,’’ said Orvis, who told his team to use Saturday’s meet as a practice meet for next year’s conference championship.
“We have a lot of good runners and we’re hoping that we can compete for the team title next year,’’ Leverenz said.
Running for a title was not an expectation for Danville’s Sadie Elliott.
The freshman came into the season with a modest goal of being under 20 minutes.
“This is my first year of running 3 miles,’’ Elliott said. “I had never done it before and I didn’t know what to expect.
“I’ve just done way better than I expected to do.’’
On Saturday, she ran the 3-mile course in 18 minutes, 33 seconds, finishing third behind Normal West’s Emily Brelsfoard and Normal Community’s Carly Pederson.
“It was actually a tough race for her, because we knew those two Normal girls would be out in front and probably out of reach for her,’’ Orvis said. “And, she was out of front of the next pack. It basically meant she had to run the entire race by herself.
“That’s a tough way to run, but she is mature beyond her years.’’
Elliott seemingly handled the challenge with ease, finishing 14 seconds in front of the Hannah Wright, the fourth-place finisher from Champaign Central.
“Coming into today, I just wanted to run my best and I was hoping for a top-five finish,’’ she said. “I just had to make sure the pace behind me didn’t pass me.’’
And it was just another accomplishment for the freshman, who holds the school record with a time of 18:25.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done this year,’’ she said. “I’ve just gone out there and run — I don’t think about anything else.’’
But how does she explain her sudden rise in the cross country ranks?
“My coaches and my teammates have pushed me a lot,’’ she said. “They have all been a big part of it.’’
In the team competition, Danville was sixth in both the boys and girls races.
Normal West captured the boys Big 12 title, while Normal Community earned the girls championship.