By VINCE PELUSO
Through the first mile of the Division II state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Edgewood coach Steve Hill was a little scared.
Not because his two runners — twin brothers Chris and Josh LeMay — weren’t running well. They were running too well.
Chris got through the first mile in third place while Josh was in 10th.
Chris, a 2012 state qualifier, maintained a strong pace and finished on the podium in 12th place with a run of 16:26.40.
“He came through the first mile in third and I was a little concerned with what was going on,” Hill said. “Luckily, there was a coach standing next to me and I was like, ‘What are my kids doing?’ Because I didn’t think it could continue. But he told me don’t worry about it, Division II’s front runners aren’t as strong, they’ll be OK. So that was a calming effect.
“Every time I saw (Chris) he looked me in the eye and was positive. We had a strategy and he kept doing what we had hoped.”
Hill said he would’ve been satisfied with a top-30 finish for Chris, so his finish certainly exceeded expectations.
Josh, who held off for 41st, was projected to finish around 52nd coming into the race.
“Chris’ time wasn’t extremely fast, but the field kind of sat back,” Hill said. “He had an opportunity and took it. No one really came after him, beside a few of the top runners.
“Realistically, I was going to be happy if he was in the top 30s. That’s probably what we were expecting. In the top 16, that gets him on the podium, it’s a big accomplishment and he gets a medal which is great.”
For Josh, the sub-17 time was a personal record on grass, something Hill was pleased with.
“He exceeded expectations and broke 17 which is good, he’s only ever done that on a road race, so this is a grass PR for him,” he said. “He was right there and fell back a little bit but he ran well.”
While Chris surpassed what Hill might’ve originally projected, he did say the junior has been running strong leading up to the state meet.
“He’s had a really good couple of weeks here leading up to district and regionals,” he said. “The district conditions were bad for anything really good to happen and last week he fought to get to where he got. Mentally he was there and just went after it.”
Also in Division II, Perry’s Aaran Gessic placed 31st. The Pirates senior ran a 16:53.37.
Hill said the course conditions were solid for the most part.
“There was no rain today, it was a little overcast and the temperature was probably in the 40s with a little wind, but it only effected a few places,” he said. “We felt that after looking at the girls times, the course was there for the taking.”
Hill hopes the LeMays strong finish to the season will translate to success in 2014.
“It’s our hope,” he said. “Their brother is down here, he’s talking the talk right now. It’s there if these guys want it. We’ll have to see over the next couple months. We only lose really one person from top seven or eight runners so it’s there. We just really have to drop some time, but it’s possible to get down here.”
Lakeside senior Karen Barrientos was only the second Dragons girls runner to make it to the state meet and she didn’t waste the opportunity.
Competing in Division I, Barrientos finished 44th, the top finisher for any girl in the Star Beacon coverage area.
“I thought she ran well,” Lakeside coach Christina Powers said. “The conditions were really windy when she ran, there was a strong head wind and the course was pretty much open except for some wooded areas. Yesterday was fairly dry but we got some rain overnight so it was a little soft.
“I thought she did a real good job. They go out pretty quickly here at the sate meet. She got out and got into position, held her own. I was very pleased.”
Also in Division I Madison’s Hilary Reigle finished 71st. The Blue Streaks junior ran a 19:37.76.
In Division II, Geneva junior Emily Deering placed 47th with a time of 19:52.70.
Rounding out the girls competition was Grand Valley’s Jessica Finley. The Mustangs sophomore was making her second-straight trip to state and ran a 21:14.80 (111th place).
For Powers, Barrientos’ race was a nice way for her career to end.
“I tell you what, Karen came to me my first year of coaching and we’ve been together for three years and it’s been an honor for me to coach her,” she said. “Like any athlete, she had to work through some things and it took three years to figure out what worked for her in her racing and training and she really came into her own. She worked at it this year.
“She had goals she wanted to meet and she set her mind to it and decided she was going to do it. She’s great to work with and very coachable. She makes my job easier.”
Powers hopes and believes Barrientos’ strong finish will be a springboard to other runners from Lakeside following in her footsteps.
“She’s only the second Lakeside girl to ever make it down and there’s never been a boy so I think it helps the program,” she said. “I think we’ve taken a step in the right direction, we’ve held our own in the county and we’re moving up in the conference. I think we’re finding that we’re able to hold on our when we compete with some of the bigger schools.
“Hopefully, something like this helps keep us moving.”