Pittston Area graduate Tara Johnson finished her high school career with a District 2 title and a solid time at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Championships.
She started her college career just as hot.
The King’s College freshman has led the Monarchs’ women’s cross country team through the first two invitationals of the season — one at Misericordia University and one at Lebanon Valley College. Johnson was a four-time state qualifier at Pittston Area.
In Johnson’s first meet of the college season, she was asked by her coach, Mike Kolinovsky, to pace herself for the first kilometer or so, and not run a normal cross country race. It was a little different at first for Johnson, but the strategy worked out.
Johnson ran the 4K in 16:15 to take a top-3 finish in her first collegiate event. Although nervous, she said it was nice to be around the local schools at Misericordia’s invitational.
“At first we had to pace ourselves, then we could run hard in the final mile,” she said. “It was weird going out there and running a different style of race, but it worked.”
The same strategy was in place when Johnson ran the first 5K of her college career. At Lebanon Valley College’s Union Canal Tunnel Park for the Dutchmen Invitational, Johnson’s 19:56 was also good for third place in the women’s race. As a team, King’s has finished third and fourth, respectively, through the first two meets. In both contests, Johnson was the lead runner.
Kolinovsky, in his 15th season at King’s, said he expects Johnson to be one of the better runners in the conference in the near future. He also expects her to take part in the first season of track and field at King’s College, which will start in the spring.
“While recruiting her, I felt like she was someone that would definitely help take our team to the next level,” Kolinovsky said. “Right off the bat she’s done that.”
Storied career at PA
While she isn’t looking back at her high school career, she said cross country was her favorite part.
From her freshman season on, Johnson was a fixture in top-10 across the Wyoming Valley. Her career started at the Cliff Robbins Invitational in 2012 when she finished ninth with a time of 20:35 in the 5K. She reached the PIAA Championships as a high school freshman thanks to a ninth place finish at the District 2 championships.
As a sophomore, Johnson was a Class 2A medalist when she took ninth place at the state championships after a fourth-place finish at the district championships. Johnson battled injuries her junior season and still took silver at districts and qualified for states.
In her senior year, she finally got over the hump at districts. Her time of 19:21 was one of her best in her career and turned into gold.
“That was such a great experience,” she said. “Having Joe (Struckus) as a coach really taught me a lot. The team atmosphere was always great.”
Choosing King’s College
Johnson admits the college in Wilkes-Barre wasn’t her first choice. She did, however, attend a few meets last year, along with an overnight stay with the team. From that point on, she was convinced.
Johnson is studying elementary and special education while competing for the Monarchs.
“Once I got here for my visits, I knew it was the right fit,” she said. “Everyone has been awesome and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
The freshman from Avoca said living on campus gives her an opportunity to interact with her team more, along with the opportunity to meet new friends. But leaving Pittston Area was a difficult process, she said.
Johnson is the daughter of Beth and Brian Johnson of Avoca. Her sister, Brianna, is a junior at Pittston Area. Having the support of her family, Johnson said, is one of the most important pieces to her success.
“They’ve really never missed a meet, no matter what,” she said.
The Monarchs will be back in action at the Messiah Invitational on Friday, Sept. 24. Johnson said that will be the first time she will be “opening it up” and running a normal race.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick