Sehome junior cross country runner Abby Johnson has never thought of herself as an elite runner.
“I have always seen the girls on the team that are faster than me and think, ‘I want to be like them, I want to do what they are doing,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “I have looked up to them, and that has kind of always been my mindset.”
With such a talent-laden roster, Johnson has had plenty of high-caliber, experienced runners to emulate during her freshman and sophomore seasons. Now as a junior, and with star runner Emily Pittis graduated, Johnson finds herself being idolized by younger runners.
And in two years’ time, Johnson has already given younger teammates a pretty good reason to want to follow her lead.
Johnson captured a ninth-place state finish, running a time of 19 minutes, 23.09 seconds, during her first year running at the Class 2A State Championships Meet last fall. Her finish helped the Mariners capture another state title.
Johnson’s strong cross country year translated to the spring where she placed 12th in state in the 1,600 and landed on the podium in the 3,200 with a seventh-place finish. And it was on the track where Ryan saw her take another step forward.
“I think you really saw in the spring her get used to the mindset and getting the experience of being a top-flight runner and being at the front of races,” Sehome cross country coach Kevin Ryan said during a phone interview.
That should benefit Johnson and the Mariners this fall as the team looks to defend their Class 2A state title without Pittis, who accrued more than her share of team points during the course of her four years.
Sehome returns a strong running core that includes Ellie Rowan-Arnett, Dana Ringler, Aili Emory, Kate Rose and Tatiana Langley to name a few. It’s certainly a group capable of making another state run.
Johnson will be a key contributor, and for Ryan, a lot of Johnson’s success boils down to her confidence level.
“(Last spring) was valuable for her confidence, and that prepared her to be in a position to help and step up,” Ryan said. “She has definitely put herself in position to improve on last year’s finish. She has done all the right things.”
Johnson said she’s learned plenty during her two seasons running for Sehome. Pittis was invaluable, but so was last year’s state meet. She’s hoping to implement the lessons learned throughout this season.
“The biggest thing I learned was the best way to run at a bigger race,” Johnson said. “You can get away with running for PRs at other races, but at a bigger race, that is for the team. It’s about the team.”
That’s certainly a message Pittis always offered, and it’s one this next set of standout Mariners are looking to employ as well.
“I’m hoping to make it to state with my team and do what I can to help the team win a title again, whatever that may be,” said Johnson, when asked what her personal goals were for this fall. “I want to see if I can be in the top 10 again, like last year, and get as many points as I can for this team.”