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Boys cross country: Landis leads Sterling to third place in talent-laden home meet

STERLING – Jon Landis is old school. Like Old Testament old school.

The Sterling freshman rode his Bible passage of choice to a sixth-place finish and helped the Golden Warriors place third as a team at the Sterling Invitational on Saturday morning at Hoover Park.

Landis blew by three runners at the 1-mile mark to move from 10th to seventh and eventually reeled in another en route to a 15:46 finish.

“I always surge and pass them,” Landis said. “My father always told me that if you go and try to pass somebody right by their shoulder, they’re going to go with you. But if you gain speed and then pass them, they don’t know what hit them.”

“I don’t think he feels pain,” Sterling senior Keaton Dir said of Landis. “I think he just goes.”

Dir kicked late to place 31st (16:25), while Nick Olds (35th – 16:27), Cody Lund (40th – 16:39) and Zach Alston (41st – 16:40) rounded out the Warriors’ formidably packing attack. Last year, Sterling placed 15th in the team standings.

Pleasant Valley cruised to repeat as team champion with 58 points, 43 fewer than the 101 for Conant, which boasted the individual champ in Zach Dale (14:59). Sterling posted 153 points, edging Alleman by four.

Throughout his races, Landis leans on the verse Isaiah 40:31: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”

It yields results, unlike when Landis took on cross country in sixth grade.

“I was in the way back, and I never really did good,” Landis said. “But I said, ‘Lord, if you want me to do good, let me do good.’”

His times fell dramatically his seventh-grade year and, a year ago, he and middle-schooler Jacob Gebhardt almost exclusively finished 1-2, unopposed.

“I’ve always had the approach that I put in 50 percent, God puts in his 50 percent, and I started going up in ranks,” Landis said.

Rock Falls placed 12th, as freshman Brayden Hamblen and sophomore Seth Williams placed 17th (16:04) and 22nd (16:10), respectively.

“We weren’t running like ourselves today,” Hamblen said. “It felt like we were moving fast, but we got to the 2-mile mark and somebody yelled the time, and it didn’t sound good.”

With the postseason looming, Hamblen wasn’t exactly disappointed to get a stinker out of the way, although missing an opportunity on a local course stung.

“I’m glad that I got a bad time out of the way,” Hamblen said. “I can just come back smarter and do better next year. I just know that next year that I gotta follow the front pack and stay with them. I can’t let them go, because I can get a way faster time.

“I’ll be fine. Seth and I will come back strong.”

Despite Dixon placing second last year and boasting the top returning runner in Simon Thorpe, the senior’s dad and the Dukes’ coach, Evan Thorpe, gave his varsity runners the day off.

It had to be hard for the younger Thorpe to watch Alleman’s Zach Hird – with whom he’s had several run-ins, including being nipped in Peoria after edging him in track – place second in 15:19, his dogfight with Dale eventually fizzling.

“But he was fine. He understands,” Evan Thorpe said. “[Hird] is one of the front-runners in the conversation of winning a [Class 2A] state title. We don’t want to beat him today. We want to beat him in 4 weeks.”

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