With her 25th place finish, Jay M. Robinson's Brooke Johns was Cabarrus County's top representative at last year's 3A state cross country meet.
When she placed a strong tenth in the 800 meters at the state outdoor track and field meet in the spring, the Bulldogs' Alyssa Lashway established herself as one of the area's best mid-to-long distance runners.
Going into this cross country season, coach Justin Gutierrez says Johns, a sophomore, and Lashway, a senior, are Robinson's one-two punch as the girls' team tries to reach the state meet for the second straight year.
Though they both have been running since their seventh grade years, they broke into cross country in different ways and developed different styles.
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Lashway's background is in track and field and Johns started out competing in triathlons. As they enter the 2011 season, Gutierrez figures either one of them can be considered as the Bulldogs' top runner.
After competing on Harris Road Middle's track team for two years, Lashway says she never considered running cross country in high school until her dad convinced her of her potential and talked her into it. For her freshman and sophomore seasons, Lashway says she kept pace as Robinson's number two runner.
Johns and her parents, Sam and Cyndi, all got started in triathlons together about four years ago, she said. Johns says she used to compete in one every month during her middle school years.
The long distances of triathlons helped her build the endurance that has benefitted her in cross country running. Her ability was evident from the early part of her freshman season but establishing herself as a leading personality was a little more challenging as a newcomer to the team.
Johns - along with the impact of another freshman, Ashlei Andrejchak- changed the structure of the team. Lashway slipped a spot or two but it created a lot of traffic near the top of Robinson's lineup.
At the 3A Midwest Regional meet, Johns ran a team season record of 19 minutes, 53 seconds and placed eighth out of 106 runners while Andrejchak finished 15th.
"Regionals was definitely the biggest thing for me," said Johns. "It was the first time I broke 20 minutes."
With the help of strong finishes from Andrea O'Connell (29th), Lashway (35th) and Alexandra Hairfield (36th), Robinson finished fourth as a team and qualified for its first state meet. Behind Johns' 25th place finish, the Bulldogs placed 11th in the state.
In the state outdoor track and field meet, Lashway, Johns and Andrejchak were members of Robinson's 3,200-meter relay team that finished eighth.
Guitierrez says Johns and Lashway are practicing similar training and dietary habits that put them on line with one another.
"They are giving up the sodas and the cookies and are going to bed on time," he says. "That translates to the others girls seeing that as an example. I wouldn't even separate them right now."
As one who shades toward middle distances, Lashway has a little more speed than Johns. With Johns' background in triathlons, she has a stronger running pace than Lashway.
And that should translate into both of them leading the pack.