Danville's Leverenz cruises to Big 12 title

Danville's Leverenz cruises to Big 12 title

DANVILLE — Johnny Leverenz is No. 1. With a bullet.

As in faster than a speeding ...

The Danville High senior repeated as the individual champion in Saturday’s Big 12 Conference boys’ cross-country meet and challenged the course record at Kennekuk Cove County Park. He ran the 3-mile course in 14 minutes, 46 seconds, seven seconds off the record time.

Leverenz did it without benefit of having competition push him to the finish. He opened up a commanding lead in the first mile and crossed the finish line 35 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer, Bloomington’s Sam Doud.

“His normal race is he gets a little complacent if no one is pushing him,” Danville coach Todd Orvis said. “The home crowd cheering definitely helped. This was impressive.”

Five months ago, Leverenz won the Class 3A state track title in the 800 meters.

“You don’t find many people that have that range,” Orvis said, “the good 800 speed and able to do well in cross-country. He’s kind of a hybrid. He’s a hot prospect right now.”

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are taking notice. Leverenz’s focus remains on the postseason, which starts in six days when the Vikings enter the Class 2A Centennial Regional.

He has established himself as a state contender.

“I’ve pushed myself to work harder and run faster,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot more effort. In the summer, I ran everyday. My mentality is better.”

State-ranked Champaign Central placed second to Normal Community in the boys’ team race. The Maroons had two top-five placers, Ashton Hyatt (third) and Corey White (fourth).

“Our guys gave it a good, hard try,” Central coach Argie Johnson said.

Central was seeking to end a 35-year drought since the 1978 squad won the school’s last Big 12 crown in the sport.

“We were determined to win, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Hyatt said. “It’s more than determination. We have a good team and we hope we’re going to state to get our team back on the map.”

Of the Maroons’ top six runners, five ran personal-best times. Besides Hyatt and White, teammates who matched that feat were Henry Sills, Nimesh Avashia and Hayden Hinton.

Besides Leverenz and Central teammates Hyatt and White, other area all-conference runners were Urbana’s Carter Huff (13th) and Danville’s Carl Way (15th).

Girls’ race

Normal Community ended Normal West’s four-year run as team champion. Central’s Hannah Wright was second, Centennial’s Rebecca Kaefring was fourth and Danville’s Mercedes Elliott was fifth.

Wright has been able to improve in each of her varsity years and owns the Maroons’ 3-mile school record (18:19).

“The key, as your body changes, is you have to change your running and your stride,” Wright said. “I’ve gone to running camps the last two summers and that’s a good way to evaluate your running.”

Working out with the boys’ team this fall has led to major strides.

“It has gotten me a lot faster,” she said.

Said Central coach Christopher Schultz: “She is extremely dedicated to the sport. She is motivated to be one of the best runners Central has had. I could move away from coaching and have 100 percent faith she’d do the things she is doing.”

Kaefring credited a change in race strategy for moving up from seventh place a year ago.

“I decided to catch girls instead of starting up front and having them catch me,” she said. “I slowly got them.”

She improved her finish by three positions from 2012.

“I’ve made more of a commitment to running,” Kaefring said. “It’s desire, and the people around pushing me.”

The area’s other all-conference runner was Central’s Hannah Shinew (12th). The Maroons placed third in the team standings.