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Sidelines: St. John's is packed and ready

09/28/2006, 7:25am EDT

Black The Blade/Molly Corfman

OBJECTf612244a-305a-49f1-b7cb-f232ffe9a758Running in packs is a common strategy in cross country races.

The purpose? A belief that stronger runners will pull better efforts out of their teammates.

This season at St. John s Jesuit, the Titans emergence as a two-pack squad may help them reach a goal of a state championship.

St. John s, ranked second in the latest Division I state coaches poll, got a feel for how close it may be to the top last Saturday.

The Titans ran even, 53-53, with top-ranked, defending state champion Cincinnati LaSalle at the All Ohio Catholic Championship meet in Dayton.

LaSalle took first on a tie-breaker as its non-scoring sixth finisher placed higher than St. John s sixth runner.

I see a lot of confidence, fourth-year Titans coach Todd Black said. They ve worked hard at this point and I think we ve put it in their minds that this [current training and racing] is kind of like preseason.

OBJECT41536838-24bb-47ec-a22b-961544337b81 So, when they get into the City League championship, the district and the regional, we can turn it up a notch, mentally and physically. I believe their best races are yet to come.

Led by the superb front-running trio of twin brothers Chris and Matt Lemon along with Joe Miller, the Titans placed a disappointing sixth last year in the state meet, two spots behind St. Francis de Sales.

The disappointment for the Titans who had nipped St. Francis 36-37 for the CL title was twofold. Not only had St. John s been overtaken by its chief rival, but the Titans never developed enough depth to complement the Lemon-Miller trio, which was consistently near the top, individually.

In last year s CL meet, for instance, Chris Lemon edged Whitmer s two-time defending league champion Skyler Schmitt for the individual title (15:35.12 to 15:36.96) and Miller placed third (15:39.68) by also breaking Schmitt s 2004 CL-record time of 15:48.3. Matt Lemon was fourth.

This year, the final go-round for the senior Lemon twins, St. John s prospects look decidedly better as the season s stretch run approaches. The CL meet is Oct. 14 at Ottawa Park, followed by the D-I district Oct. 21 at Pearson Park. The regional and state meets will follow on successive Saturdays.

The Lemon-Miller trio is running better than ever, and the Titans have added some depth.

Bolstering St. John s chances is the next trio senior Ben Schoonmaker, junior Brett Wagner and sophomore Chris Madaras a group which has regularly produced two solid scoring times from the three runners.

A maximum of seven runners compete in a 3.1-mile (5,000-meter) race, with only the top five runners figuring into the team s point total.

Wagner, who was sidelined by stress fractures for much of his sophomore season, has made the biggest improvement from 2005. His best time last year was 17:58. This season he s gone 16:48.

It s given that we have the best trio in Ohio, Wagner said. But each week our [Nos.] 4 and 5 have to keep getting better and better. Then we ll wind up where we want to be.

It s kind of a challenge for everyone because we want to do good at state. The pressure s on us [in next trio] to get our times down to where they need to be. We knew we had to improve because those [top] three guys are doing what they have to do.

Schoonmaker has also made a huge drop, going from a best of 17:39 last year to 16:54 this year. Madaras, whose best this season is 16:57, is aiming at his 2005 low of 16:50.

As for the lead pack, Chris Lemon posted a career-best 15:30.50 in placing second behind Maumee standout Bo Waggoner (15:18.25) at the Tiffin Carnival, topping his CL-record time from 2005.

We ve been doing a lot harder workouts this year and they ve been trying to pack it up, Chris Lemon said. Up front we have a good pack, and then behind us Brett and Ben and Chris have really been sticking together this year. That s helping us.

If you try to stay on someone, you re going to run faster. It s definitely easier to run with somebody because then you re not just going for time, you re going for place. OBJECT2c801798-669a-4728-84dc-d2dd06c43760

Matt Lemon recorded his career best at the Chet Sullwold Invitational at Ottawa Park in early September, besting his prior low (at 2005 CL meet) with a 15:31.78.

The main thing we ve been focusing on is running in packs, Matt Lemon said. If we start to string out and have guys running here and there, they re not really helping each other.

When they re running side by side, they re competing against each other and they re all doing better for it. LaSalle tries to do the same kind of thing. They have two guys out front and then they have some other guys running some pretty quick times behind them.

Miller, a junior, also posted a personal best (15:36.05) at Tiffin a few weeks back, bettering his 2005 CL meet time.

Our whole team has been very impressive in what they ve done, Miller said. They [second pack] have stepped up and taken it upon themselves to do what they need to do. We try not to give them too much pressure. They know what they have to do.

With the Lemons graduating [after] this year we know it s our last year together, so we know we really have to push it this year. This past weekend we proved we can stick with the top team in the state, so I think we re up for anything.

The Titans have won every meet they ve competed in this season except for two their opener, where they were runner-up to Pinckney (Mich.) at the Hot Summer Bash meet at Galion Northmor on Aug. 26, and last Saturday s tie-break loss.

They have that feeling that a [state] championship is right there, Black said, if they make things happen the right way in the next month.

Obviously, every year they ve gotten stronger physically, and this is the most miles we ve ever trained. The intensity s pretty tough and I know they can handle it physically. Mentally, they ve been to the state meet twice. They know what the state meet is and what it means to them, and having the feel for the state is important.

Contact Steve Junga or 419-724-6461.

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