Platte County's boys runners huddle up before the Chile Pepper Festival race Saturday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Johnson places in top 10, earns medal in elite field at Chile Pepper Festival

Pirates traveled to Arkansas over weekend for race featuring nearly 900 runners, placed 26th out of more than 100 teams.

Even in one of the Midwest’s largest meets, Andrew Johnson stood out, but he also continued to see one of the top runners with a shot to keep him from the ultimate postseason goal.

Platte County’s senior star placed eighth in an elite field of almost 900 runners in Saturday’s Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Johnson was one of five runners from Missouri in the top 12 but not the top finisher from the Show-Me State.

Instead, Lincoln Prep senior Isaac Rivera took the individual title in 15 minutes, 8.90 seconds, while Rockhurst junior Henry Acorn came in sixth (15:23.10). This marked the second straight week Rivera won a race with Johnson in the field, and the two figure to be top contenders in the Class 4 Missouri State Cross Country Championships individual race next month.

Johnson ran sub-16 for the fourth time in his career — all this season — but the mark of 15:31.00 was off the winning pace and his PR of 15:05.60 in the season-opening Tim Nixon Invitational in Liberty. However, he is also in the heaviest part of training for the season with the goal of peaking in Class 4 District 8 and the state race over the final two weekends.

With Johnson leading the way, Platte County finished 26th out of 104 teams with a score of 903. This marked the first year for the Pirates to travel south for the event after fundraising to take advantage of the solid competition.

Platte County senior Kade Meinke (112th, 16:41.00), sophomore Blake Herron (191st, 17:06.90), junior Tanner Jenks (253rd, 17:24.30) and sophomore Donavin Ness (459th, 18:16.60) rounded out the team total. Rockhurst (fifth), Liberty (sixth), Festus (10th), Kirkwood (11th) and Lincoln Prep (12th) were the only Missouri teams to finish ahead of the Pirates. None of those teams had a scoring runner with a number higher than 206, while Jenks was the No. 224 finisher from a qualified team and Ness 394th.

The crowded course creates unique challenges for runners not used to such large fields.

However, Herron set a PR and nearly broke 17 minutes for the first time in his career and continued his push to clearly establish himself as Platte County’s No. 3 behind the top senior duo. Jenks also ran for the second straight week after missing one meet due to injury.

Platte County junior Ben Letcher (550th, 18:41.00), sophomore Elijah Jackson (695th, 19:36.20) and senior Lincoln Duane 756th, 20:26.90) also ran but did not factor into the scoring. All six of the Pirates’ top finishers have prior state experience, while senior Scott Sellers also factors into the chase for a spot in the top seven for the upcoming Suburban Conference White Division Championships and the postseason.

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