2013-11-27 / Sports

Johnson, Waters formed dynamic duo for Mustangs

2013 Journal Tribune Girls Cross Country Runners of the Year
By CAMERON DUNBAR
Staff Writer

Massabesic's Angel Waters, far left, and Gabrielle Johnson run during the second mile of the Class A girls state championship cross country race on Nov. 2 at Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland. Johnson, a junior, finished fifth overall in a time of 20:02.03 while Waters, a senior, was seventh in a time of 20:03.44 to help the Mustangs to a second-place finish in the girls team standings. A week later at the New England's meet in Manchester, N.H., Waters earned national elite honors with a time of 19:22.40, good enough for 60th place overall, while Johnson ran a 20:01.10 to finish in 114th as the Mustangs finished 20th overall in the team standings. (CAMERON DUNBAR/Journal Tribune File Photo)

WATERBORO — There wasn't much that separated Gabrielle Johnson and Angel Waters this season ”“ quite literally.

The Massabesic girls cross country teammates came into the season as the Mustangs' No. 1 and 1A runners for a team with state title hopes and didn't disappoint, using the strategy of running together in most races to consistently score low points for their team.

That was especially true at the Class A state meet, where the two ran as a tandem the entire way as Johnson finished fifth and Waters seventh to help Massabesic to a second-place finish in the overall team standings, the sixth-straight year the Mustangs have finished in the top three in the state.

For their efforts, both were named to the Maine Track & Cross Country Coaches Association's all-state cross country girls first team ”“ making Massabesic one of just two teams with two runners named to the first-team list of 10.

And for their efforts, and because there's been so little to separate them throughout the season, Johnson and Waters have also been selected as the Journal Tribune's girls cross country runners of the year.

“They were just exceptional throughout the whole year,” Massabesic coach Mark Crepeau said. “We expected them to be our one and two, but they improved tremendously through the year, which really helped the whole girls team out a lot.”

Johnson, a junior, and Waters, a senior, were both key cogs in Massabesic's runners-up team at the state meet in 2012, when Johnson finished 10th and Waters 23rd.

But with the loss of top-runner Jocelyn Acheson and her fellow seniors Marie Harrington and Nicole Roberge from that squad, Johnson and Waters were left as the most-experienced returners in a talented but young Mustangs group coming into this fall, thrusting them into roles as captains, which Crepeau said they filled with aplomb.

“Both of them have a wonderful work ethic, that's one thing they really excel at,” he said. “They work hard every single practice and they lead by example in terms of getting better by working harder. It doesn't matter how they're feeling or if they're not having a good day, they're out there pushing as hard as they can.

“The other girls respect them greatly for that and look at that as a way to be successful.”

That leadership capability wasn't only shown during daily practices, when Johnson and Waters both consistently ran in a pack with some of the runners from the boys team.

It was mainly evidenced at the races themselves, Crepeau said.

“You couldn't ask for anything better in terms of during a meet,” he said. “They both have a plan in mind in terms of how they want to go out and run. They know what they want to do before they get up to the starting line, and they have a clear picture of how they're going to attack that course, and that's stuff they relay to the other girls.

“It's not just getting up there and waiting for the gun and just running, there's a method and a plan that they set. It's not just all physical talent.”

For a good deal of meets that method and planning meant staying close together, such as in a regular-season home meet on Sept. 26, when the pair finished one-two as Johnson crossed the line in 20:58 with Waters right on her tail.

But the two weren't beholden to that strategy to the point of damaging their chances.

That was evidenced at the Western regional championship meet, when Johnson ran a 19:52 to finish third and 28 seconds ahead of seventh-placed Waters, as well as the New England's meet, when Waters ran the fastest time of her career, 19:05, to finish 60th and earn national elite honors while Johnson came home in 20:01 to place 114th.

“I would say Angel probably went above what we thought she was going to do this year. She had just a knock-your-socks-off New England's meet,” Crepeau said. “She said she was going to go out and run the fastest time she's ever run, and that's exactly what she did. She beat that course up.”

But when the two were running at the same level, both said it helped them keep pace during a race.

“We do our best when we work together,” Waters said after the state meet. “I feel like this was my best with my time today.”

“We try to work with each other as much as possible,” Johnson added. “We do it during practice, so out on the course it works best, too.”

As far as off the course, Crepeau said their personalities are fairly different with Johnson the introspective, quiet leader while Waters filled the role of the more outgoing teammate who loosened the team up in tense moments.

But when the gun went off, they went back to just being fast ”“ usually together.

“They're both very intense. As runners, it's hard to tell the difference between them,” Crepeau said. “They both want to be really good, and they don't accept anything less than what they're capable of giving.”

— Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or cdunbar@journaltribune.com.

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