Tom Batters
Johnny Crain

Johnny Crain, a senior at Dunlap High School, finished ninth in the Class 2A boys cross country state final Saturday at Detweiller Park.

He was all smiles at the awards ceremony, as he posed for pictures with his coach, Joe Wenskus.

But, about an hour earlier, he was in absolute agony.

“I collapsed when I crossed the finish line,” said Crain, who, like many runners Saturday, felt the effects of the unseasonably warm temperature. “I was definitely dehydrated. If I had to run anymore, I would have been in big trouble. I would not have made it.”

Crain said the heat (the sun was beating down and the temperature was in the 70s) forced him to make some adjustments and to be patient, even though the race galloped at a very fast pace.

“The first mile was so fast. It was the fastest I had ever gone,” he said. “But, I didn’t want to go too quickly at the start. I just hung in there, and slowly kept passing people. I’m just so excited to get a medal. That was my goal coming in — just to get in the top 25. To get in the top 10 is just amazing.”

Crain, who posted a 15:27 time, is the first runner from Dunlap ever to finish in the top 10 at the state meet.

Peoria Notre Dame senior J.D. Wynn also earned a state medal. He finished 11th (15:29)

“J.D. was 30 seconds better than his personal best,” said Peoria Notre Dame coach Mile Sullivan. “That’s incredible. What a great run.”

Peoria Notre Dame senior C.J. Elward, one of the favorites to earn a medal, finished in 53rd place. Elward got off to a strong lead, but faltered in the final quarter mile. He stopped a few times and struggled to reach the finish line.

“We had a disappointment there, but I’m not even going to talk about it,” Sullivan said. “We had two all-staters (J.D. Wynn and Maggie Clark). I’m very proud of both of them.”

Sullivan said he was happy for Wynn, who sometimes gets overshadowed by Elward, and his own sister, Jessie Wynn, last year’s state runner-up.

“J.D. has been aiming at this race for a long time,” Sullivan said. “He came here to be an all-stater, and that’s what he got. He deserved it.”

The Notre Dame boys team finished fourth, one place shy of a state trophy. Senior Matt Birkel finished 27th, just two seconds off the all-state medal pace (the top 25 runners get state medals). Mike Birkel (37th), Paul Fortin (50th), Cary Elward (62nd) and Michael Kouri (75th) rounded out the Notre Dame scoring.

Crain said he felt bad about Elward’s unfortunate end to his cross country career.

“I saw C.J. at the end when I passed him, but I didn’t think about it much then, because I was concentrating on finishing the race,” he said. “But, it is sad to see that. C.J. is such a competitor, and he’s one of the best ever in this area. I wish he could have gotten a medal today.”

GIRLS RACEAt the state cross country meet last year, gusting winds blew snow flakes into the runners’ faces, and the spectators wore ski masks, hoods and heavy gloves, which still didn’t keep them warm enough.

What a difference a year makes.

On Saturday, many runners succumbed to the heat, and most of the spectators wore shorts and fanned themselves with their souvenir programs.

Peoria Notre Dame junior Maggie Clark said the sudden invasion of summer air in the month of November was a surprise that caught many runners off guard, but she would rather have it too hot than too cold.

“We’ve been training in cold and rainy weather recently, so today’s weather was unexpected,” she said. “It made it harder to run, but it’s better than running in the cold.”

Clark finished 17th, which earned her an all-state medal and avenged the disappointment from last year when she finished 26th, just one spot away from a medal.

“Overall, it was good day for me,” she said.

Peoria Notre Dame coach Mike Sullivan: “I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She prepared herself and came out today and ran a great race.”

The Notre Dame girls team, finished fifth (Molly Dahlquist (28th), Kelsi Finan (32nd), Jessie Wynn (51st), Kelsey Stockert (74th), Julie Hendricksen (83rd), and Caitlin Evers (89th).

Dunlap sophomore Leah Brooks, who finished 27th last year, finished in 153rd place.