Hunting Hills hosting cross-country provincials
When Brian Johnson took over the Hunting Hills High School cross-country running team six years ago he had six runners in the program.
Today they have 50 and are one of the premier schools in the province.
“The last three years we’ve finished third, fourth and third, “ said Johnson, who will get an opportunity to put his team’s talent on display at home this year.
Hunting Hills will hosting the provincial high school championship Saturday at River Bend Golf Course and Recreation Area, which is an ideal location for the championships.
“We ran three races there and came away with only positive feedback,” said Johnson. “It’s a fantastic location with the trails and hills.”
Cross-country running has always been in Johnson’s blood.
“It’s a passion of mine and I set a goal when I arrived at Hunting Hills and went after it aggressively,” he said. “It takes a lot of work to have success and you need the kids to buy into it.
“Besides the hard work you need to do a lot of fun stuff as well. Last week we hiked in the mountains and competed in a fun race in Calgary. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s rewarding.”
Hunting Hills goes into the provincials with high expectations.
“We have at least three runners who we expect to finish in the medals,” said Johnson.
That group is led by Matt Hope, who is undefeated this year in the senior boys’ category. Jordanna Cota, who won the Central Alberta senior girls’ title, and Derrick Evans, who is one of the premier distance runners on the track and the Central Alberta intermediate boys’ champion, are looked at as medal contenders.
Both Hope and Cota have been with Johnson since Grade 9 and are expected to compete at the post-secondary level.
“I know the University of Alberta coach is coming to watch them,” said Johnson, who also sees RDC as a strong team and a good location for his runners to go.
“We work a lot with (RDC head coach) Brian Stackhouse and some of our kids will join his program after the provincials to prepare for the nationals,” said Johnson, who has Kieran McDonald with the RDC team this year.
McDonald was second at the senior boys’ high school provincials last year and is one of the top three in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference this year.
While several Hunting Hills runners are strong medal contenders they’re just part of a solid Central Alberta team.
“I can see half the top 10 in senior boys coming from this area,” said Johnson. “We’re very strong in senior boys and girls, plus there’s several strong runners in the other divisions.”
Matt Cernohorsky of Notre Dame, Matt VanMulligan of Hunting Hills and Alex Andres and Tyler Smith of Wetaskiwin are strong in the senior boys’ division.
Smith is one of the premier 800-metre runners in the country and has competed nationally.
Cota will be joined by teammate Alex Johnson and Sefrah Daviduck of Lindsay Thurber as top runners in the senior girls’ category while two runners out of Innisfail — Emily Lucas and Amy Severtson — and Sydney Braaten of Notre Dame are runners to watch in the junior girls’ category.
Kirsten Ramsay of Lacombe and Sylvia Von Gunten of Rimbey lead the way in the intermediate girls.
Noah Mulzet of Lindsay Thurber is one of the top runners in the area in the junior boys’ division as is David Erasmus of Provost.
Mitch Dore of Notre Dame joins Evans as the top two out of the area in the intermediate boys.
The opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. Saturday with the junior girls’ three-kilometre race going at noon.
The junior boys is set for 12:30 p.m., the intermediate girls at 1 p.m. and senior girls at 1:45 p.m. All three races are 4km.
The 5km intermediate boys’ race is at 2:30 p.m. with the 6km senior boys’ run at 3:15 p.m.