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Johnson leading cross country pack after transferring in from Neoga

By Geary Deniston
Contributing Writer
updated: 9/3/2019 11:05 AM

Last year at this time, Reece Johnson was running for Neoga High School on his way to the state cross country meet.
A few months later, he learned that his father had been hired to become Benton High School's superintendent. With that hire, the Benton boys cross country team may have received the final ingredient it needed for a state championship-caliber team.
"I love cross country," Johnson said. "At Neoga, they don't have cross county in middle school, but I did run track in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, running the mile and the 800.
"We were good, winning the championship in seventh grade and got second in eighth grade. I then ran track and cross country my freshman year. However, once I started running cross country, I realized I loved that a lot more than track, so I didn't run track last year."
Johnson is a junior who finished 51st at the Class 1A state meet actually beating out his future BHS teammates in senior Joey Sample (70), sophomore Chase Owens (102), senior Brady Gischer (124) and junior Parker Sieveking (195).
"I should have placed in the top 25 and got a medal," Johnson said. "I ran 15:30 two different times last year, but when I got to state I ran 15:55.75. I think I peaked too early. I think Coach (Brent) McLain does a good job getting his guys peak at the right time. It's pretty neat running for him."
The season started last week at the West Frankfort Quad against West Frankfort, Herrin and Pinckneyville. Johnson laid down his marker, winning the meet with a time of 16:40 edging Gischer by nine seconds. He also finished ahead of Owens by 30 seconds, Sample by 1:26 and Sieveking by 2:34.
The Rangers placed five runners in the top 13 to win the meet, easily beating Herrin by 19 points, Pinckneyville by 32 and West Frankfort by 56.
As a freshman, Johnson finished second at the regional with a time of 16:11, but missed out qualifying for state with a 13th place finish at the sectional.
"The 12 kids ahead of me got to go to state after I missed the cut by seven seconds," Johnson said. "It was tough."
Johnson got a late start melding with his new team because his father wasn't hired until late July.
"I didn't get many miles before I got here and they've been doing summer runs twice a week, so I caught the last three," Johnson said. "I only put in 90 miles before the season actually started."
This week, the boys participate in the Murphysboro Invitational Wednesday.
"Neoga only has 1,700 people and the school is about a third the size of Benton," Johnson said. "At first I wasn't happy moving, but after about a month of school, I love it here," Johnson said. "We love hiking Giant City and Garden of the Gods."