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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Sidelines: Young and fearless

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Freshman Joe Miller, center, and sophomore Chris Lemon, left, and Matt Lemon. Freshman Joe Miller, center, and sophomore Chris Lemon, left, and Matt Lemon.
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A trio of young runners is distinguishing the St. John s Jesuit cross country program as one of the elite in the area.

Sophomore twins Chris and Matt Lemon and freshman Joe Miller have led the Titans to a No. 9 ranking in the Division I state poll.

The young guys are leading the way, St. John s second-year coach Todd Black said. I like to say we have triplets because Joe has stepped right in with them.

St. John s won the Clay Eagle Invitational by a large margin last weekend. The Titans outdistanced second-place St. Francis by 41 points, 76-117, as the trio all posted personal best times. Chris Lemon took third place with a time of 16:09 in the 5-kilometer distance (3.1 miles). Miller was fifth (16:21.01) and Matt Lemon finished sixth (16:21.44). Those three are definitely our leading runners, Black said. They keep getting faster as the weeks go on.

The Eagle Invitational was the third invitational that St. John s has won this year. The Titans captured the Fremont Invitational and Galion Invitational. They finished second at the All-Ohio Catholic Meet and were sixth at the Tiffin Carnival.

The Lemons and Miller have all finished as the team s leader in at least one meet. The team s top six is rounded out by seniors Phillip Hiltner and Ryan Schoonmaker and junior Eric Michalak.

Black said this year s juniors and seniors were on the last Titan team that reached the state meet, in 2002. In Black s first year the Titans took second in the City and made it to the regional. He said late in the season Chris and Matt Lemon began to take over.

They became our No. 1 and 2 runners. It was a sign of what was coming, Black said. I was really looking forward to this year because of those two.

Black was further encouraged when the Lemons informed him that a freshman-to-be had consistently beaten them in junior high.

They told us that Joe not only ran with them, they said Joe would beat them, Black said. So I thought he would be special, and he has held up to that.

The Lemons and Miller have been running together since their days at St. Aloysius Elementary and Junior High in Bowling Green. They were coached through junior high by the Lemons father, Mike, who is still the coach at St. Aloysius.

Miller, of Tontogany, said he owes a lot to the Lemon brothers.

In practice they push me and give me words of encouragement, the 14-year-old said. They re fun to be around. They made it so much easier to run. Running with them helps out a ton.

Chris Lemon said Miller is a guy who just goes out and runs. We ve known him as long as I can remember. We give each other rides home every day. It s like that with the whole team.

The Lemons, who live in Bowling Green, both said Miller has been a great addition.

I think it has really helped the team a lot to have another kid who is pushing the low 16 s, Matt Lemon said. It shows we have promise for the future.

Black said Miller has one of the fastest times for a freshman in the state.

Miller went to St. Aloysius from first through fifth grades. He was then home-schooled in sixth through eighth, but participated in athletics at St. Aloysius. He won the Catholic Youth Organization championship in cross country in seventh and eighth grade.

That was unforgettable, he said. That s when I started to realize if I worked at it, I could do pretty well.

Miller said reuniting with the Lemons has made him faster because he uses them to set his pace.

When I came to St. John s it was just like old times, Miller said. I just feel like I landed in the right spot.

While Miller s long time familiarity with the Lemons allows him to easily distinguish between the twins, Black said it took him a year to figure out who was who.

They do look a lot alike, Black said. I still get their names mixed up.

Chris is a little more outgoing, a little more aggressive. Matt is more laid back. He s quieter. But they are both very competitive and they re hard workers. They re awesome kids to coach.

The brothers also like to focus on the team rather than individual accomplishments.

I ve never won a cross country meet, but that doesn t matter. It comes down to the team, Chris said. It really is a team sport. You have to put all five scores together.

The three also said they didn t care about their state ranking, currently ninth in Division I.

I don t think it matters where we re ranked until the day of state, Matt Lemon said.

I think that it is a little too early to be ranked that high, Miller said. There are a lot of teams up and coming. We just try to do our best at races.

It s nice to be recognized by your peers throughout the state, Black said. The kids have worked hard to be there.

St. John s does not have another meet until the City League race at Ottawa Park on Oct 16. Black said the team s goal is to win the league and district and finish in the top four at the regional to qualify for the state meet.

We ve been running well for four weeks, Black said. I can t be any happier than where we are at right now. And we have a bright future with those three.

Contact Mark Monroe at:mmonroe@theblade.com



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