by Tony Jones
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a girls distance running renaissance nationally with all-time performances led by Mary Cain (Jr., Bronxville, NY) and Sarah Baxter (Sr., Simi Valley, CA). But locally where things matter more, the homegrown girls have done very well in recent years. There have been long-time state records broken to All-American status in cross country and track achieved. No longer are the Illinois distance girls used as a door mat. Instead they will do the stepping on. Expect that to continue this season in all three events.
2012 State Champion: Kaylee Flanagan (Sr., Roselle Lake Park) 10:30.47
Key returners: Flanagan, Jessica Ackerman (Sr., Winnetka New Trier), Emma Fisher (Sr., Elmhurst York), Courtney Ackerman (Sr., Winnetka New Trier), Kelsey Hjorth (Sr., Oswego), Sami Staples (So., Crystal Lake Central), Lisa Luczak (So., Glen Ellyn Glenbard West), Elly DeTurris (So., Naperville North), Emily Brelsfoard (Sr., Normal Community West), Emily Leonard (Jr., Park Ridge Maine South).
Possible newcomers: Madeline Perez (Jr., Glen Ellyn Glenbard West), Jessica Ackerman (Sr., Winnetka New Trier).
Outlook: 2012 could go done as the best and deepest field in history- rivaling the 2011 final in which every runner broke 12:00. Defending champ Flanagan will get the respect that she deserves and more, but she will have her hands full in trying to earn another title. The ‘double trouble’ twin Ackermans‘ Jessica and Courtney will play a major role in how this event will shape out. But no one outside of the New Trier camp really know what they are going to concentrate on. We can only speculate for the next 3-4 months. It’s always a great coaching problem to have when their athletes have tremendous range. The woman to watch here is Perez. She is ‘Ms. Distance Runner’ after producing the greatest cross country season ever last fall. She is capable of running in the 10:00 range. But that decision will be up to her coaches. Also, Fisher will not be too far behind. She placed second in the cross country final and has some lofty goals this season.
2012 State Champion: Courtney Clayton (Sr., Rockton Hononegah) 2:08.48
Key returners: Clayton, Lauren Poplawski (Sr., Mt. Prospect Prospect), Jessica Ackerman (Sr., Winnetka New Trier), Torree Scull (So., St. Charles East), Shianne Baggett (Sr., Chicago Whitney Young), Emma Reifel (Sr., Glen Ellyn Glenbard West), McKenna Kiple (Sr., Wheaton-Warrenville South), Lauren Van Vlierbergen (So., Algonquin Jacobs.)
Outlook: 2012 was an incredible year in this event that was topped off by a brilliant performance in the state championship led by Clayton and Lindsey Rakosnik (Lombard Glenbard East) who both produced US#10 marks at the time. As well, it was the fastest overall final from 1-9 (all-state) and 1-12 (overall field). The question going into this season will be: Can this season’s crop duplicate or supplant last year’s magic? The initial answer would have to be yes. Clayton will return solely to defend her championship and also to go after the legendary Shelly McBride (Crete-Monee) and her all-time mark of 2:07.5. She is going to need a little help from somewhere. But it may have to wait until the post-IHSA season. In the meantime, look for a few possible names to move up. Poplawski returns as the second best returner and time placer (6th-2:13.17). She would be a 2:10 candidate if doubling or tripling doesn’t come into play. The 4×8 relay duties may keep Poplawksi busy because Prospect has one of the best 4×8 relays returning… word is Jessica Ackerman may explore other event possibilities. If she vacates her position, Scull could be in a good spot to return as a top three or four two-lap specialist. The Public League’s Baggett no longer has the kryptonite known as Dhia Dean (Chicago Kenwood) to worry about. Dean is now competing for Eastern Illinois University. Baggett’s performance seemed to wane whenever she competed against Dean- going from key race contender to out of the mix. However, this is a new beginning and the same expectations as before still exist. Don’t be surprised if Baggett produces a mark in the 2:11-12 range before the end of the season. The talent is there, she just needs to go and race when the chips are on the line… Reifel is not a 12th place runner. She sacrificed all of her individual accolades for the team last year to anchor the most memorable race in 4×8 relay history. After giving everything to beat Kiple to the finish line, she simply didn’t have anything left in the tank. But the 2:13.63 personal best in last year’s prelim is more indicative of the talent that the senior standout possesses. Kiple is in the same boat with the 4×8 relay chores. But she has 2:09-2:10 wheels if needed.
2012 State Champion: Ariel Michalek (Oswego East) 4:53.37
Key returners: Courtney Ackerman (Sr., Winnetka New Trier), Jill Hardies (Sr., Hinsdale Central), Christina Santiago (Jr., Mt. Prospect [Prospect]), Madeline Perez (Jr., Glen Ellyn Glenbard West), Kelsey Hjorth (Sr., Oswego), Sami Staples (So., Crystal Lake Central), Emily Brelsfoard (Sr., Normal West).
Outlook: There are seven returners from last year’s final but that’s only the introductory news. The real deal is this event is going to be hotter than a powder keg in a Chicago summer when May rolls around. So, in other words if there are athletes out there not prepared to run under 5:00, it might be a wise thing to find a new event. But there is a strong feeling that say it will not happen because the mile is the premier event in track and field; every distance running girl has a goal of breaking 5:00 (or 4:59.5 1600m equivalent). It’s just the way track and field rolls. Courtney Ackerman will be back to run this event as her primary choice this season. Her twin Jessica may not though. Still, there will be a lot of quality to choose from like Hardies-5th, Santiago-6th, and Perez-8th. Hardies indicated that she would like to concentrate her efforts on producing a great mile this year and win a state title. She would need to get over health issues that have plagued her in recent years. We all know that Perez is the key here. As stated before, she will be a marked woman after her record breaking cross country season. The key to her running this event seriously will depend on the 3200 and 4×8 relay. But either way Perez will be a threat in her opponents mind because of the enormous potential and range she has… not a word was uttered about 800 specialist Courtney Clayton (Sr., Rockton Hononegah). She is an 18:00 cross country runner so the depth is there. But don’t expect anything serious in this event until 2015 when she is well into her collegiate career.