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December 26, 2012

CROSS COUNTRY: Johnston, Parsons finish year as two of district’s best small-school runners

MEADVILLE — It just didn’t make sense to pick between Saegertown’s Hunter Johnston or Maplewood’s Jeremy Parsons as The Meadville Tribune's Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year. At two different periods of the season, they could have each been called the best small-school runner in District 10.

Johnston owned that moniker for all of the regular season. The Division I Dayton University recruit dominated every tri-meet he participated in, and he even bested Parsons on a few occasions. For example, they both raced in the Cochranton Invitational. Johnston took second (16:10, trailing Corry’s Austin Pondel, who won it in 15:47) and Parsons finished third (16:38). Johnston also beat Parsons in a Region 3 tri-meet at Maplewood, finishing first (16:19) while Parsons was second (16:49). And Johnston claimed first (16:19) at the Region 3 Invite while Parsons again finished a spot behind (16:26).

Johnston’s grip on the area’s top spot lasted all the way until the last mile or so of the District 10 Class A championship meet. It was at that point that Johnston, who had built up another significant lead over Parsons, was hit with a side cramp and couldn’t keep up the pace. Parsons and 12 other runners overtook Johnston to the finish. The Tigers’ junior was first across the line in 17:27. Johnston finished 14th in 18:04.

Would Parsons have caught Johnston if Johnston could have finished at full speed?

We’ll never know for sure. Johnston did accumulate a pretty nice lead. And judging by past performances, Parsons had a hard time tracking him down under normal circumstances.

However, we can’t write off Parsons’ D-10 title run as a fluke, especially not after what he did in the state championship meet the following week. His fifth-place time of 16:28 was one of the best performances Crawford County athletics has seen in quite awhile. And it was also six spots ahead of a now-healthy Johnston who finished in 11th place in time of 16:46 (which, let’s be clear, is still pretty fantastic).

So, Parsons peaked late. And in the sport of cross country, that’s what you aim for — to be the fastest guy (or gal) at the very end.

Now, some may ask, if Parsons is a D-10 champion and our best performer at states, why doesn’t he get athlete of the year all by himself?

Well, Johnston is a D-10 title-holder as well. He was the lead runner for the Panthers, who picked up their first team trophy in school history in this year’s Class A championship. That honor advanced Saegertown to the state meet as a team, and the Panthers went on to take third place behind champion Northeast Bradford and runner-up Elk Lake.

Granted, that had as much to do with Johnston as it did the rest of the Saegertown team. Yet, keep in mind that this was a program that had graduated a three-time D-10 champion and four-time state qualifier (Nate Tallada) the year before. The Panthers needed a leader. Johnston stepped into that role, and led the team to a title.

Therefore, both of these guys are deserving. Both of these guys are outstanding runners. And both of them are the Meadville Tribune’s Boys Cross Country Athletes of the Year.

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