DANVILLE — Optimism and reality don't always go hand-in-hand. For Danville sophomore Johnny Leverenz, they were in perfect harmony at Saturday's Big 12 Conference cross-country meet.
Winning the 3-mile race at Kennekuk Cove County Park would be nice but Leverenz recognized the overwhelming odds.
"He (MacArthur's Michael Clevenger) is like an automatic first," said Leverenz, referring to the defending Class 2A state champion.
Clevenger set a blistering pace — a course-record 14 minutes, 39 seconds — and Leverenz beat all other runners to finish second in a time (15:19) that was a second off the previous course record.
He was one of two Vikings to earn all-conference status. Freshman Caleb Hummer was seventh (15:45).
"We knew Clevenger was untouchable," Danville coach Todd Orvis said, "but we knew Johnny had a chance to be runner-up. He and Caleb ran the way we envisioned."
Leverenz and Normal Community's Ryan O'Leary traded positions until the final quarter mile, when Leverenz pulled away to a three-second edge.
"Johnny's strength has been he can hammer the final mile," Orvis said. "Since he has gotten to us, he has run like a veteran."
Leverenz called it "a great day" and said the key came at the outset of the race. "I started off fast, and I'm glad I did," he said.
Starting quickly is a relative term in a race where the top-ranked Clevenger took control immediately. Leverenz wasn't distraught.
"I knew I couldn't keep up with him," he said.
Hummer held back early (5:05 opening mile) and first moved into the top 10 during the second mile. He maintained his position.
"I felt better than the people ahead of me," said Hummer, whose time was 13 seconds better than he recently ran on Peoria's state-meet course.
"He came to compete, which is unusual for a freshman," Orvis said.
The other area all-conference runner was Centennial senior Blas Garcia-Canga. He was fifth in 15:38.
"A great effort," Chargers coach Greg Walters said. "He was right at his career best."
Centennial's team placed fourth, the best among area schools, thanks in part to fifth runner Alec Shedelbower. "He's a first-year cross-country runner who was on the verge of a sub-17 (finishing in 17:03)," Walters said.
"Our three, four and five runners all ran well (within 37 seconds of one another)."
Central's Alex Goodlad was 11th, finishing seven seconds and one position behind the final all-conference runner. Goodlad's time was 16:12.
In the 73-runner junior varsity race, Central freshman Isaac Kaston was the winner (17:26) and was the only runner not from Normal among the top 12.
Urbana junior Nicole Choquette stayed on the heels of Normal Community's Carly Pederson and finished within a few steps of the Big 12 champion, who tied the girls' course record (17:54).
Choquette covered the course in 17:59.
"We've been running together since sixth grade, and we've been pretty equal," Choquette said. "I've been working to get under 18 (minutes) and to do it twice gets me hyped."
With regionals six days away, Urbana coach Peter Breit likes what he sees from his front-runner.
"The time is good," Breit said. "We're moving in the right direction, but we're not quite there. The team was closer as a pack than they have been."
The other area all-conference runner was Central sophomore Hannah Wright (eighth in 19:05).
"That's the fastest she's run," Central coach Christopher Schultz said. "Last year at this time, she was around 20 minutes. This was fantastic. She is looking strong and is ready to break 19."
Centennial's Audrey White was 11th and missed all-conference recognition by one position. Her time of 19:17 was five seconds beyond the 10th-place finisher.
Centennial was the top area team finisher, ending fourth. The Chargers' second, third and fourth runners (Rebecca Kaefring, Taylor Coats and Hannah Cuttell) ran within 36 seconds of one another.
Normal West not only won varsity team honors by a point over Normal Community but also had the top five finishers in the non-scored junior varsity race.