DANVILLE – Justin Jones let folks in on a little secret Tuesday afternoon. There's a reason he continually runs away from the competition when cross-country meets are at Kickapoo State Park.
"We practice here every day, and that's a huge advantage," said Jones, who was one of six Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac runners to place among the top 10 as the squad unseated Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman as the Vermilion County boys' championship team.
Jones has the edge on his home site because it's not just a flat layout.
"This is the hardest course I've run on," he said.
Jones' workouts have him ready for the hills and the trails.
He ran a 5-minute, 7-second opening mile and followed with splits of 5:34 and 5:36 for a composite 16:17 mark. His closest pursuer was teammate Zack Alvey – who ran his best 3-mile time ever – but was 1:39 off the pace.
A week earlier, Jones won the Vermilion Valley Conference meet on the same course by 2:03. He will have his farewell race at Kickapoo on Saturday, when it's the site for a Class 1A regional.
O/A-P's County score was 23 points. The Buffaloes were second with 36, and third-place Bismarck-Henning had 78.
The leaderboard looked strikingly like it did each of the past 17 years. This year marked the 18th year in succession that either the Comets or Buffaloes captured the team crown. G-RF/C had won seven in a row since snapping Oakwood's six-year streak.
Tim Lee, the Comets' coach, credits the prolonged success to the veteran leadership at each program.
"Oakwood owes it all to (former coach) Ray Wittmann," Lee said. "I'm just thrilled to build on what he started. Georgetown has had a great coach in Tom Kulbartz.
"They not only recruited the talent, they developed the talent."
Besides Jones and Alvey, other Comets who achieved All-County laurels for their top-10 performances were Brendan Hafner (fifth), Douglas Pierce (eighth), Austin Grey (ninth) and Tyler Grey (10th).
Alvey (17:56), Hafner (18:13) and Pierce (18:34) ran their best times ever at Kickapoo. As a group, the three dropped a total of 1:29.
G-RF/C's three leaders were Cody Swick (third), Joey McNulty (fourth) and Guthrie Gardner (sixth), the meet's top freshman runner.
The other top-10 spot was secured by Salt Fork/Westville's Danny Lewis, who moved up from ninth to seventh in the final mile.
Hoopeston Area junior Erika Ramos ran a 6:02 opening mile and increased her lead every lap thereafter, running a Vermilion County girls' meet-record 19:32 for the 3-mile course.
Bismarck-Henning senior Abby Albers was her closest pursuer, finishing in 20:26.
Belinda Cohen (third), Abby Newman (seventh) and Emily Warner (ninth) were other All-County runners for the Cornjerkers, who defended their team title.
Hoopeston accumulated 29 points. The runner-up Blue Devils had 35, and O/A-P had 56.
"We don't practice the hills a lot," Hoopeston coach Rich Stipp said, "but the girls stepped up and ran it. They are a very determined group, and these kids have put forth a royal effort."
G-RF/C had two All-County performers in Mary McKee (sixth) and Bridgette Vallangeon (10th). B-H's second top-10 finisher was Jessica Brito (eighth).
Salt Fork/Westville's Andrea Martis (fourth) and O/A-P's Kassi Ziegler (fifth) were the other All-County runners.
Ashley Houmes, one of Hoopeston's regular top-five runners, was ill and could not compete. In her place was Alyssa Oyer, a midseason addition running in her third meet. Oyer was the meet's first freshman finisher.
"I've coached her since fifth grade, and she has always been a hard competitor," Stipp said. "This (26:41) was by far her best time ever."
For the second week in a row, Hoopeston won a major meet with the minimum number of runners to be scored as a team (five).
"They made me sweat," Stipp said.