Johnson makes history for Warriors XC

Meskwaki Settlement School junior Shye Johnson became the first cross country runner in school history to qualify for the state meet. Johnson came in ninth place at the district meet in Ottumwa with a time of 22:45.90. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

On Oct. 22 at the Class 1A state-qualifying district meet in Ottumwa, Meskwaki Settlement School junior Shye Johnson became the first runner in school history to qualify for the State Cross Country Meet.

Johnson finished ninth last week with a time of 22:45.9. The top 10 runners from each district meet qualified to advance to the state meet this weekend in Fort Dodge.

“The course was tough and it was really humid,” Johnson said. “We thought it was going to be easy and flat but it had slow incline hills the whole time. I was dead right when we started.”

While most of the state was experiencing cold, wet and windy conditions on Thursday, the runners in Ottumwa faced temperatures that peaked over 80 degrees around race time with 60% humidity and wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour.

Johnson started the race out fast, jumping up to as high as third place within the first mile. As the course conditions took hold she fell back in the pack and temporarily out of the top 10.

But the junior fought her way back into contention as the race neared its final mile.

“Towards the end I had my mom shouting ‘How bad do you want it!?’ whenever I passed her,” Johnson said. “Some of the girls in front of me started to slow down and I picked it up at the right time.”

She is so deserving,” head coach Tracy Sienknecht said. “She’s worked hard and when you have an athlete that you can work with and adjust to it makes it all the more rewarding. Plus she is a dual sport athlete so there were times where I wouldn’t see her more than two times in a week. I had to trust her to go out and run on her own or do the workout that was provided.”

This season Johnson played with the Warriors volleyball team while also training and competing as the only girl on the cross country team.

She said it was a challenge balancing all of the responsibilities this fall but that she appreciates the benefits cross country gives her as a multi-sport athlete.

“Cross country makes you stronger,” Johnson said. “It’s very mental and benefits you in a bunch of other sports. Like in basketball I don’t get tired running up and down the court.”

Johnson will join 250 of Class 1A’s top runners this weekend at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Meet in Fort Dodge at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course. The girls race is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.

Johnson set a goal of breaking her personal 5K record of 21:58 at the state meet and hopes to work toward running under 19 minutes for her senior year.

“I was super-duper happy because no girl at Meskwaki has done this and gone to State,” Johnson said. “It’s weird having a bunch of eyes on you and it makes me nervous. But I just want to influence the younger kids to go out and try cross country.”

This season Johnson was joined by three runners on the boys team including Zayton Weninger-Brown, Tibby Billy and Davion Slick-Driscoll.

Weninger-Brown was the lone competitor for the boys team at the district meet, finishing 40th with a time of 20:53.0.

“I’m hoping Shye qualifying will give the opportunity for kids to realize that, ‘Wow, if I work hard and follow through on a sport, there’s a payoff’,” Sienknecht said. “And it’s a big payoff. That’s what we’re hoping to set the pace for.”