Upon completing Friday’s race, Rhiannon Johns said she immediately thought of “how far I’d come.”
And the 17-year-old wasn’t just talking about the five challenging kilometres she’d just travelled at Kinsmen Park, en route to winning the Senior Girls Division title at the Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) Cross-Country Championships.
Johns couldn’t help but think back to Grade 9, when she finished 11th among midgets at the city meet and sixth on the Sir James Dunn team.
That kept her from qualifying for NOSSA in Espanola.
“I remember how disappointed I was not going to NOSSA,” said Johns, a Grade 12 student, who ran Friday’s race in 20:15.23, more than half a minute ahead of Manitoulin Secondary School’s Emma Tallman (20:46.36). “After that season, I decided I was making that NOSSA team the next year.”
Johns said she trained hard the following summer and, despite moving up to the junior ranks, captured the city championship in Grade 10.
“I surprised a lot of people and I surprised myself more,” Johns recalled. “This is my last NOSSA and winning today (Friday) made me realize I’d come full circle since Grade 9. It’s so reassuring to know that when you work for something and put everything you have into it, you can accomplish it.”
Sparked by the running of Johns, Nora Saunders (21:00.00), who placed third, and fifth-place finisher Erin Mallinger (21:30.81), the Eagles grabbed the senior girls team title over runner-up St. Mary’s and third-place finisher, St. Basil.
SJD also captured the girls aggregate title and, combined with the Dunn’s second-place boys aggregate finish, the NOSSA co-ed (all boys and girls combined) championship.
Johns credited Eagles girls coach Lorri Purnis for helping hone her skills as a runner, beginning with the summer before she entered Grade 10.
“She (Purnis) believed in me the entire time when other people thought I was probably wasting my time,” Johns said.
But Purnis saw something special in Johns.
“This is the most determined kid I know,” the coach began. “In Grade 9, she got a random nose bleed during interval training. She ran into (nearby) Anna McCrea (elementary school), grabbed some paper towels, shoved bits up her nose and continued to run. That’s a sign of her dedication.”
Jessica Nanne (21:40.34) of St. Mary’s grabbed sixth place Friday, one spot ahead of St. Basil’s Heather Bedell (21:44.51). The Knights Tessa Kasch (22:01.31) placed eighth and her teammate, Alysha Gjos, (22:41.07) was 12th.
Sault Ste. Marie runners also produced a Midget Division 3k champion Friday. SJD’s Lynnea Lobert topped the field by finishing in a time of 13:45.17. That was a little more than five seconds better than Jullien Flynn (13:50.65) of St. Basil, and helped the Dunn capture the midget team title.
“I’m very excited. It doesn’t feel as if it’s real,” said Lobert, a 14-year-old, Grade 9 student. “I never thought I’d be able to keep up in high school, but I set my mind to it.”
The Eagles Arianna Christenson (15:22.82) placed fifth, her teammate Catherine Mallinger (15:36.87) was seventh and two other SJD runners, Jennifer Glassford (15:46.00) and Maggie Kirkwood (15:58.04) placed eighth and ninth, respectively.
Central Algoma Secondary School’s Nichole Kinzel was 10th in 16:02.58, followed by SJD’s Sydney Mitchell (16:07.15).
Rachel Brain (16:09.34) of White Pines finished 13th, Sarah Theodossiou (16:10.12) of Korah was 14th and her teammate, Jenna Marsh (16:14.83), was another spot back.
The Dunn’s Carly Wetzl (19:27.65) was the top local competitor with a fifth-place showing in the Junior Girls 4k. That helped the Eagles place second as a team.
Korah’s Elyse McCarthy (20:07.82) was ninth overall, Amanda Martens (20:21.94) of St. Mary’s placed 11th and Allison Bovingdon (20:51.76) of Korah was 15th.
Members of the top two teams in each category, and the next three individuals not qualifying as part of a team, advance to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) meet, one week from today in Niagara Falls.