DANVILLE — Favorites on paper aren’t always first to the finish line.
Danville’s Johnny Leverenz handled the challenge Saturday and won individual honors in the Big 12 Conference boys’ cross-country meet at Kennekuk Cove County Park. The junior all-stater’s 3-mile time was 15 minutes, 18 seconds and he prevailed by eight seconds.
Central senior Kain Shirley was fourth and Centennial senior Aaron Miller placed eighth in the 54-runner field. For Shirley, the Maroons’ No. 1 runner for two years, it was his first time finishing ahead of Miller since middle school.
“I was trying to get out strong and hold it throughout. It was definitely not easy,” Leverenz said.
“Running by yourself is a tough task,” Danville coach Todd Orvis said. “Knowing the course was definitely an advantage for him, and he didn’t let up.”
Leverenz’ time was the third-best of his career.
“He’s a competitor and always comes up big at the end of the year,” Orvis said.
Leverenz is the first Viking individual champion since Ricky Alvarez in 2001.
The conference meet was the final tune-up for the Vikings, who will join the area’s other Class 2A schools in next Saturday’s Taylorville Regional. Danville was without sophomore Caleb Hummer, who is sidelined with tendinitis.
In a virtual photo-finish, Shirley was declared the fifth-place runner.
“It was close to a tie,” Shirley said, “but my foot was down first across the line.”
He had a good feeling when he heard his 2-mile split (10:33).
“That was my best 2-mile time yet and I kept going from there,” Shirley said.
As a senior, he is trying to make up for lost time.
“Four years have gone by really quick,” he said. “I didn’t push myself as much as I should have in the other years, but this year, I’m giving it my all.”
His time (15:59) was a personal-best by 15 seconds.
“He is more focused now,” Central coach Argie Johnson said. “When you’re coming into your last races in high school, your focus tends to change. He is finally waking up and running the way he should.”
Central had the best area team finish (third place).
“As a team, we’re starting to show we can get the job done if we work together,” Johnson said.
Centennial had the other two area top 10 finishers. Reis DeSantis (10th) joined Miller.
“The first 2 miles, I was in perfect placement,” Miller said, “but I got outkicked at the end. Eighth with that time is definitely an achievement.”
In the girls’ race, Danville freshman Mercedes Elliott and Central junior Hannah Wright, ran third and fourth, respectively. Elliott’s 3-mile time was 18:33.
“I’ve surprised myself a lot this year,” she said. “I only wanted to run under 20 minutes (in the preseason).”
Wright (18:47) dropped 20 seconds off her previous best. With the competition in the Big 12, she wasn’t shocked.
“The conference is full of amazing teams,” Wright said. “Next week, I will peak a little more so by sectionals, I will be the best I can be.”
The other area top 10 runner was Centennial’s Rebecca Kaefring. She finished seventh, crediting the competition for pulling her along.
“My goal was top 10, but I didn’t think I’d break 19 (minutes) today,” Kaefring said. “Since I was behind some faster girls, I knew I’d be up there. I followed on everyone’s tail.”
Her time (18:53) was a 24-second improvement from her best (two weeks ago).
“It’s our second fastest time (ever) on this course,” Centennial coach Laura Koterba-Buss said.