They were beaming brightly while posing for a picture off of the cross-country course Wednesday, but Rhiannon Johns and Nora Saunders were smiling assassins on it.
The best of friends, Johns and Saunders dominated their opposition in finishing 1-2 in the Senior Girls Division's five-kilometre race, at the annual High School Cross-Country Championships at Kinsmen Park.
Having trained and planned their race strategy together, Johns, who finished first in a personal-best time of 20:09.18, and Saunders, who followed in a personal-best 20:30.59, helped Sir James Dunn capture top spot among senior teams and the girls aggregate championship.
Despite the fact St. Mary's won the boys aggregate title, when all points were tabulated, the Eagles grabbed the co-ed championship.
Tessa Kasch of St. Mary's was third behind Johns and Saunders, finishing in 21:43.82.
She was followed by the Knights' Jessica Nanne (21:52.95) and SJD's Erin Mallinger (22:08.13).
The victory was particularly sweet for the 17-year-old Johns, who felt ill during and after last year's final and wound up second to Alysha Gjos of St. Mary's. Johns, who ran a disappointing time, nearly passed out at the end of that race.
"This feels incredibly better than last year," the Grade 12 student said. "It lets me know that what happened last year was a fluke. I trained as hard as I could every session this year. In all of the races Nora and I have run, we've stuck together and worked together to get through the pack. Today (Wednesday), we planned to get out ahead of everyone and then see which of us was feeling good."
Apparently, both were.
"It definitely makes this feel extra special when you do it with a close friend," said Saunders, 17, who edits the SJD yearbook with Johns.
The pair also have a couple of classes together.
"We're there to push each other and work together as a team," Saunders, who's also in Grade 12, said. "Cross-country is an individual sport, but it's also a team sport. That's why I love it." Proud of how she and Saunders performed Wednesday, Johns said they're now setting their sights on this year's Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) meet, slated for Kinsmen Park a week from Friday.
"We're looking forward to again working together at NOSSA and knowing what this course is like will be huge," Johns said.
Sir James Dunn runners credit coach for making them the best
It appears Sault runners will have to contend with Emma Tallman, a talented cross-country athlete from Manitoulin.
"Hopefully, together, we can both beat her," Saunders offered. "We know how each other likes to run. Together, we feel as if we're stronger than one individual."
Both runners credited the Dunn's girls coach, Lorri Purnis, for their success and the team's accomplishments.
"They train really hard together, they're dedicated and they have a lot of talent," Purnis said of Johns and Saunders. "When you have that kind of space (between yourself and the other competitors), the natural tendency is to relax. But these girls keep pushing each other harder and harder for personal bests."
Meantime, St. Basil's Heather Bedell wound up sixth in senior while Carissa Holley of White Pines was seventh and SJD's Wendy Oleksiw eighth. They were followed by the Dunn's Hilary Mallinger and Stephanie Kwolek of St. Basil, who rounded out the top 10.
Erin Murphy of St. Mary's grabbed top spot in the junior girls 4k, finishing in a time of 19:35.75. Her teammate, Amanda Martens, followed in 19:51.25, while Carly Wetzl of SJD placed third in 20:01.67, helping the Eagles take top spot in team standings.
Times of the top four runners are used to determine team rankings.
Korah runners secured the next two junior spots: Elyse McCarthy (20:57.77) was fourth and and Allison Bovingdon (21:04.15) fifth.
Kristen Fergus of St. Basil placed sixth, followed by Rachel Dick and Brianne Manson, both of the Dunn.
Katie Speers of White Pines was ninth and SJD's Kendall Barban 10th. Leading the Eagles to team honours, SJD's Lynnea Lobert captured the midget individual title, edging Jullien Flynn of St. Basil by less than four seconds in the 3k event. Lobert finished in 13:50.31, Flynn in 13:53.81.
Beginning a string of four straight Dunn runners, Arianna Christenson was third (15:38.57). Her teammate, Maggie Kirkwood (15:44.66) placed fourth, followed by Catherine Mallinger (15:49.80) and Jennifer Glassford.
Kayleigh Rathwell of White Pines wound up seventh, followed by her teammate, Rachel Brain. Justina Mai of the Dunn placed ninth, one spot ahead of Sarah Theodossius of Korah.