GOOSE LAKE — Unlike most others in her field, Jackie Kokjohn took the starting line at the Northeast Varsity Cross Country Meet as the only Prince of Peace runner in the competition. Yet, she wasn’t alone.
Before the starting gun Thursday, Kokjohn found herself in the middle of a sizeable huddle. Irish boys runners Devon and Dermot Bly, Jacob Jankowski, Seth Moeller and Caleb Kitteringham surrounded their senior female counterpart for a last-second morale boost: “Go Jackie!”
“It’s a lot different,” Kokjohn, a senior, said. She wasn’t the lone Irish runner last season but lost several teammates to graduation. “The boys help me push along because I don’t have any girls on the team. I practice with them, and they just keep motivating me. They’re great at supporting me and helping me get better.”
Twenty minutes later, a breathless Kokjohn congratulated Northeast’s Hannah Kilburg on winning the Rebels’ home invitational, with a time of 16 minutes, 22.27 seconds over the 4,000-meter race. The Irish girl didn’t fare too badly, either. She finished less than a second off Kilburg’s pace as the runner-up at 16:23.02. Both runners shaved more than 20 seconds off their times set at Clinton High’s Schoolhouse Open the week before.
“It feels great, but I don’t think I would’ve been able to push myself if it wasn’t for Jackie,” Kilburg said. “She really pushed me. She did a great job.”
Kokjohn said, “She was setting a good pace, and I was really just trying to keep with her.”
It was the start of a very successful day for the Rebels. In addition to Kilburg, the Northeast girls placed first in the team standings. Eli Kaczinski won the boys race while leading his Rebels team to first in their 5,000-meter race.