Topping the list of reasons Spring Valley is in the hunt for a Class 4A boys track championship this weekend is a set of twin brothers, Matthew and Michael Johnson.
The brothers, both seniors, will each compete in four events for the Vikings: 400- and 800-meter runs, 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
"We're fortunate to have some very talented kids this season," coach John Jones said. "Our team this year is really based around those two kids."
That is far from what the brothers expected when they started competing in track for the first time as sophomores.
With the Vikings, the Johnsons traveled to some highly competitive out-of-state meets that first season. At first, they were intimidated.
"We looked at the guys that were all taller than us, they had dreads, we figured they were faster than us," Matthew Johnson said.
But the twins had decent showings in every competition, and eventually, Michael Johnson said, they realized that they could be serious competitors.
"Now that we know what we can do, we are different," said Michael.
As juniors, Matthew won the state championship in the 800. Michael finished second.
Their performance level and their confidence has grown leaps and bounds since that first season, Jones said. With the brothers leading them, the Vikings' middle-distance relay teams are No. 1 seeds. Tonight, the 3,200 relay team has a shot at breaking the state record.
"When we first started out, Coach told us that by 2010, we could win a state championship," Michael Johnson said. "This is the year and we can prove him right."
Their performance in those relays is a big part of reaching that goal.
"They are the center of our team," Jones said. "They have gotten so strong and skilled for us, that we are doubling their events, having them compete in four events, which we don't like to do."
But the twins have the energy for it.
"They make the Energizer bunny look like he's sleeping. They are all over the place all the time," Jones said.
The twins, who confessed a preference for Kool-Aid to water, said their boundless energy is a simple matter of "runner's high."
"When you finish a race, you have to cool down, but you just want to get back out there, keep moving," said Michael, who couldn't resist a few attempts at the high jump while waiting for his teammates to arrive for practice on Thursday.
The pair also is known for singing during races.
"We like to have fun when we're out there," Michael said.
The singing also is a way of communicating.
"It lets me know where he is," Matthew said. "If we're not singing we're talking, asking if the other is okay. We like to keep up with each other."
Accordingly, the brothers are again aiming for gold and silver medals in the 800 on Saturday. The big prize, though, would be for the Vikings to top Fort Dorchester and Sumter, the top two team title contenders.
Between them, the Johnsons have eight chances to make it happen.