MURPHYSBORO — The Southern Illinois River to River cross country meet at Riverside Park turned out exactly how the Benton Rangers envisioned Tuesday.
Senior Reece Johnson took home first-place in the Ohio for a second consecutive year while Massac County’s Ansley Bailey placed first for the girls. Johnson and freshman running mate Gavin Genesio did what they have all season — stick together ahead of the pack until one Ranger breaks away.
Johnson would eventually break away from Genesio around the two-mile mark before crossing the finish line at 16:25. Genesio later crossed at the 16:44 mark.
The two teammates couldn’t help but smile at one another in excitement.
“(Gavin) definitely brings a youth and enthusiasm to our team that’s much needed,” said Johnson. “It’s one thing if we come out here and it’s just all business and we don’t have much fun, but some of the stuff we brought on the bus today is kind of like a party coming to the meet.”
Genesio continues to put himself in contention as one of the best runners in the area. Johnson is right there with him as they both continue to push each other down the final stretch of the season.
“In a meet like this we know it’s pretty certain that we’re going to come in, do our thing and come out 1-2,” said Johnson. “We kind of took it out easy today and about the final lap I started to kick it in and probably put in a faster last last mile than either of the first two. There was no real game plan today — we were just trying to go one-through-five and we almost got it.”
Benton finished five out of the top six runners to outscore Herrin 18-47. Chase Owens took third for the Rangers at 17:30; followed by Parker Sieveking in fourth and Mason Tieffel in sixth at 17:35.
After Herrin, West Frankfort (73) finished in third, followed by Murphysboro (76), Massac County (147) and Harrisburg (149).
Bailey’s official time of 18:39 came in after the SIU commit lost track of the course — causing her to backtrack after the two-mile mark. White lines marked the direction for runners and with Bailey well ahead of the pack and no cart to follow. The decision by the IHSA official at the end was to count her time.
Benton girls would end up taking first over Massac County 25-56. Sophomore Mia Wills led the way with a second-place time of 20:32. Behind her was Hailey Wallace (20:42) in third, Peyton Tieffel fifth, Addisyn Miller sixth and Blakely Johnson ninth.
Following Murphysboro in second was Herrin (81), West Frankfort (87), Massac County (121) and Harrisburg (NTS).
The evening awarded Benton’s boys their fifth-consecutive conference title and third in a row on the girls side. The work doesn’t stop here for the Rangers and coach Brent McLain as his team sets its sight for next week.
“It’s come to the point where our kids work hard and come in with a lot of pride,” said McLain. “We take it seriously and they did that today with the right attitude. We got some hardware so we’ll go home smiling and it makes the bus ride to Benton a little bit better.”
The Rangers have senior night on Monday at the Benton Invite, which will be their final contest before traveling to Class 1A regionals in Hamilton County on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Team and individual qualifiers will then advance to sectionals at Belleville Althoff on Oct. 31.
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