The Rochelle girls cross country team has seen its leadership torch passed down a few times over the last three years. From former Lady Hub standout and perennial medalist Katherine Bakken to current senior Britney Baez, there has always been a Rochelle girl ready to take the next step and lead the cross country program.
It’s looking like Lady Hub sophomore Sara Johnson will be handling the torch pretty soon. The younger sister of former Rochelle student-athlete and state track qualifier Levi Johnson, Sara has pieced together an excellent second season with the Lady Hubs, earning awards in five consecutive meets dating back to the Eddington Invitational at Kaneland on Sept. 21.
“Katherine and Britney have taught me to keep pushing myself and continue getting better,” Johnson said. “They taught me how we can work as a team and that’s really important for us. It’s an individual sport but we’re still part of a team and we need to work together. It’s cool that I’ll get to be the next person to lead our team.”
Johnson’s most recent achievement was finishing fifth out of nearly 100 runners in the 3-mile junior varsity race at the Freeport Invitational on Oct. 5. She recorded her top time this season during the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria (22:03.4) and she made her personal record with Rochelle during the 2018 season, when she ran a time of 21:47.2 in the IHSA Class 2A Belvidere North Regional at Spencer Park.
“The season has gone pretty well and we’ve been developing over the course of the season,” Johnson said. “Our team has improved a lot… Britney and I have decreased our times and our practices have improved too. We’ve increased our distances. I’ve done better this year and I’m faster now than where I was at this point last season.”
Johnson entered Rochelle Township High School with no cross country experience, but she said former head coach John Dobbs motivated her to participate with the program. Johnson, who also competes in the 800-meter run and the 300-meter hurdles with the track and field team, was also inspired by her older brother Levi, who ran cross country his senior season.
“I like running and I enjoy the team aspect of the sport,” Johnson said. “Levi has been my biggest role model and he’s taught me not to stop and to continue getting better at what I’m working for. He taught me to always give 110 percent.”
Johnson has raced in both varsity and open competitions throughout her sophomore season. She took ninth place out of almost 70 runners in the annual Rochelle Invitational, where racers have the opportunity to run through Skare Park and get a little dirty while doing so. The event, also known as the Mud Run, has become an early favorite for Johnson, who admitted she went through the creek during the meet last season.
“We have so much fun at practices and we’ve made great memories,” Johnson said. “Running the course at Skare Park is really fun and going into the creek last season was a really cool experience.”