Freshman Cross Country Runners Take C-T Weekly Honors

Posted on September 27, 2016 in Boy's Cross Country, Fall Sports, Girl's Cross Country

Freshman Mollie Gamble

Freshman Mollie Gamble

Freshman Tahj Johnson

Freshman Tahj Johnson

BY SCOTT HUNT – shunt@chronicle-tribune.com
Oak Hill freshman Mollie Gamble has spent most of her cross country season running in the shadow of talented junior teammate Margo Hornocker, almost literally.
During many of the Golden Eagles races, Hornocker can be seen leading the pack, with petite Gamble closely in tow. The results have very much worked into Oak Hill’s favor.
On Saturday in New Haven, Golden Eagles’ coach Paige Brunner entered Hornocker in the AAA race, against some of the top teams and runners from around Indiana.
The rest of the Oak Hill team, led by Gamble, raced in the AA event with schools more comparable in size.
While neither Gamble or the Golden Eagles won the race, she turned another outstanding performance, running the 5K in 19:11.74 to finish fifth, less than six seconds out of the runner-up spot.
For her perfomance, Gamble is the Chronicle-Tribune’s female athlete of the week.
For Brunner and Gamble, it was business as usual.
“Nothing really changed other than the individual we were focused on,” said Brunner of Gamble’s top competition at New Haven. “We knew who the heavy hitters were in that race and we gave her a target. She is a very smart runner and ran a very tactical race. We were proud of her overall race and fight.”
Sydney Lambert of Norwell put more than 30 seconds on second place, but the next four spots, with Gamble in the mix, crossed the line less than six seconds apart.
Brunner said he saw the talent and work ethic Gamble possessed while watching her in middle school. He said she is just a smart runner who loves to run.
“We knew she was going to be a strong runner, we just obviously were not sure to what extent,” Brunner said. “Luckily for us, she has been a step behind Margo this season and that puts her in pretty good company.”
Another of Brunner’s talented freshmen, Tahj Johnson, is the Chronicle-Tribune’s male athlete of the week.
While Johnson didn’t garner a top-10 finish, he did lead Oak Hill to the boys’ AA team title at New Haven.
Johnson’s time of 17:08.13 was good enough for 11th, and ten spots and 20 seconds ahead of teammate JC Herring.
Brunner said Johnson ran a great tactical race and picked up nearly 20 spots in the last half of the race.
“Tahj ran off of (seniors) JC and Silas (Vermilya), I think through the first two or three K and he was in the top 25-30,” Brunner said. “At some point near the half way point of the race he relaxed and took off on his own.”
Brunner said Johnson is just starting to scratch the surface of his running ability. He thinks the freshman has a very high ceiling for what he could accomplish before his days at Oak Hill are passed.
“I’d relate him to Margo, limited success in junior high and still very, very new to the sport,” Brunner said. “Outside of Cameron Balser, who ran low 16’s and went to state as a freshman, Tahj has already had the strongest freshman season in my 13 seasons. Still not sure he knows what he is doing and or at what level he is competing. The next two to three weeks as we get going in tourney will be fun to watch.”
Brunner said good cross country runners are one of two types, freak endurance athletes or just good athletes that have chosen to run, Johnson fits into the latter.
For now, Brunner is simply happy to have to opportunity to coach Johnson.
“(Johnson) is similar to (former Oak Hill athlete) Chandler Julius,” Brunner said. “He is an all-around athlete and could have easily played football or soccer and had success. We are fortunate he picked cross country. He will be a tough three sport athlete (cross country, basketball, track) in the years to come.”

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