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2012 IHSA Girls 3A State Cross Country Meet: Perez runs race for the ages

Glenbard West junior shatters state record in winning 3A race; Naperville North captures 5th state championship.

Glenbard West’s Madeline Perez – 2012 3A Girls State Champ and State Meet Record Holder. Photo by Steven Koch

By Michael Newman

Peoria, Ill — The words of New Trier Girls Coach John Burnside were ringing in my mind as I was walking near the starting line before the start of the Girls 3A race at Detweiller Park.

He told me at an early season meet at Hinsdale of how this would be a special year in Girls 3A. He told me that there are so many great teams and individuals; it would be hard to comprehend.

Every time I saw a great girl’s race, I referenced that quote. When Kaylee Flanagan (Lake Park HS, Roselle) ran 16:20.3 at the Richard Spring Invitational and break the course record, I would refer back to Burnside’s words. When his runner Courtney Ackerman defeated a deep field at the Wheaton North Falcon Classic including Flanagan, those words would come back to me.

The dynamics of this race were fascinating. It pitted the front running pack of Naperville North, the #1 team in the state, going against teams like Lake Park, New Trier, and Glenbard West who had great front runners, but had a gap between their first two runners and the pack.

The individual race would be a great one as well. Madeline Perez (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn) had run some great races the previous two weeks defeating some title contenders such as Ackerman, Flanagan, and Emma Fisher (York HS, Elmhurst). She would enter the meet as the favorite with those three runners chasing her. You also had to consider Carly Krull (Sandburg HS, Orland Park) who easily won the Marist Sectional by 18 seconds over Jill Hardies (Central HS, Hinsdale). Krull had beaten Fisher and was only eight seconds behind Ackerman.

The conditions were great setting the table for a great race. No wind. Upper 40’s. Overcast. Nearly perfect.

Perez had the momentum. She just missed Flanagan’s course record at Lake Park by one second. When Flanagan set that record, she came to Peoria a week later and ran the 16:20.3 at Detweiller. Perez was peaking for state. Could she break the record? If so, would she get close to 16:10?

Kaylee Flanagan of Lake Park leads the pack through the half mile of the Girls 3A race. Photo By Michael Newman

In the first half mile, it was evident that Kaylee Flanagan had ditched the plan that she had the week before to sit and wait during the first mile. Instead, she went back to the strategy that she was most comfortable with in pushing the pace and daring runners to go with her. She passed the half mile in a blazing 2:31. In a line behind her were Madeline Perez, Emma Fisher, and Courtney Ackerman. As the quartet charged up the front straightaway, it was clear that these four runners would be the challengers for the state championship.

The gap between the four and the rest of the race continued to grow as they approached the mile.  Flanagan passed the mile in 5:13. Perez had the same time but just a step behind. Fisher was one second back; Ackerman came by in 5:16. After that,  there was a six second gap with a pack led by Carly Krull, Laura Van Vlierbergen (Jacobs HS, Algonquin), and Brooke Wolfe (Prospect HS, Mt. Prospect).

Lake Park had charged out to the lead like they had done during the season. They had a tight 2-3-4 pack (Rachel Garippo, Brianne Murphy, and Samantha Montalbano) that had a slight advantage over race favorites Naperville North. The Huskies had Maria McDaniel, Judy Pendergast, and Elly DeTurris close together and were waiting to make their move. O’Fallon was running good early and was in third just ahead of Prospect. All eyes, however, were on the lead truck and the 4 runners that were following.

Perez made her first move. In the last two races, she would start her push at this point. After each of the last two races, she said she was feeling better and better after a sinus / upper respiratory infection hampered her training for four weeks in the middle of the season. There were no effects from this now as her stride continued to push out the pace.

Courtney Ackerman was staying close to Perez as were Fisher and Flanagan. But somehow, the Glenbard West junior was starting to extend her lead as the race headed back into the main part of the course.

I was distracted by the lead that Perez was opening up as we headed to the two mile point.  In my mind, I was wondering how fast she was going. Her foot hit the blue mat and my finger hit the split button on my watch.

Madeline Perez at the 2 1/4 at the 2012 State Meet. Photo by Michael Newman

10:36.3 !

Holy smokes! (Not the words I used but you get the idea).

Perez was on pace to break 16:00 on this course!  Courtney Ackerman was 10:43! Emma Fisher was 10:44! Kaylee Flanagan was at 10:45!

Naperville North had re taken the team lead with Lake Park, Glenbard West, and New Trier close behind.  Here again, the focus was on the front.

The stride on the diminutive Perez looked effortless but she was storming away from the competitors. Every spectator that she passed that had a stop watch going watched her pass then looked at their watch. An excitement was engulfing the entire park as Perez was no longer racing her competitors but racing the clock and history.

Two weeks earlier, Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley HS, Simi Valley CA) had run 16:00 at the Mt. SAC Invitational in California. After that race she said that she did not realize that she was going that fast and was afraid that someone was going to catch her.  She never looked back.

This was the same case here. Perez’s focus was ahead on the lead truck and not the action behind her.  The noise kept getting louder as she made the turn down the final straightaway. Behind her, Emma Fisher had a solid lead in second place about 10 seconds ahead of Ackerman. Flanagan was another 10 seconds behind.

History was about to be made on this course. Forty years ago at this meet, Craig Virgin made history in setting the boys course record of 13:50.6. There he stood right by the finish line waiting for Perez to cross the line and join this exclusive club.

Eyes were all on her as she entered the last 200 meters of the race. As she approached the line, all eyes turned and watched the clock tick towards 16:00.

16:01.2!

On the official results, it states 16:02. But on that clock it said 16:01.2.

She shattered the record by 20 seconds. The same record that Kayla Beattie set just two years ago and people said that it would be tough to break.

Emma Fisher also crossed the line ahead of the record running 16:15. She broke the record but she was “only” second.

Emma Fisher of York finished 2nd in 16:15 also breaking the course record. Photo By Steven Koch.

“Emma Fisher ran such an amazing race,” said Glenbard West Coach Paul Haas. “Believe me, we know what it is like to break a record and get second!” In last spring’s state track meet, Glenbard West set the state record in the 4×8 relay, but so did Wheaton-Warrenville South who went under 9:00 to win the race.

“I am really happy,” Fisher said about being in the race. “I am very happy with my time. It was kind of cool. Madeline Perez is in our conference. I stayed with Courtney Ackerman most of the way. It was a great feeling.”

“The mile was 5:12-5:13. It was definitely a fast one. I was hoping it was going to go out a little harder. It was a perfect start,” Perez said after her record run. “I knew that when I got into the triangle, I wanted to put a surge in to see what other girls would go with me. The last mile felt like the fastest mile of my life. You had the fans cheering behind you. Your adrenaline is flowing. My first thought when I went by was woo, new PR. The second was that I have one more mile to go.”

“We knew it would go out fast and how the triangle was where she would attempt to get separation. She is such a tuned-in runner that I was not surprised that she was going to run well at state (she was ready to run on Wednesday) but I don’t think even she could have predicted just how well,” said Haas. “In my mind I thought she had a shot at the record, but I did not mention it since the forecast was calling for rain and the course conditions would play a huge factor on the times. I am just so proud of what she did because I know how great the competition is in this state and how hard she works at developing her running talent, not to mention overcoming such a serious illness this season. Madeline just does everything right and it was terrific to see her take control of the race the way she did.”

Third place finisher Courtney Ackerman of New Trier. Photo by Steven Koch

Courtney Ackerman finished third in 16:27. Kaylee Flanagan finished 4th in 16:39. Olivia Ryan (Fenwick HS, Oak Park) made a late race charge to take 5th. Lisa Luczak (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn) was hampered by a hamstring injury at the beginning of the week. She went out slower than expected (she was 30th at the mile). Still, she managed to place 6th in 16:45. All together, the top 6 finishers in this race were all from the Niles West Sectional.

In all the attention that the individual race received, Naperville North moved up beautifully in the last portion of the race to capture the 4th championship for Coach Dan Iverson. They had taken the lead from Lake Park half way through the race and were able to maintain that to the end for a 20 point margin. Glenbard West was only 5 behind Lake Park to take third. New Trier finished 9 points back with 147 and fourth place.

On this championship day, Naperville North had 3 all state runners. Sophomore Elly DeTurris finished 14th to lead the Huskies. Junior Maria McDaniel was next in 21st. Freshman Judy Pendergast was the third all state runner for North in 23rd. Their 5 runner split was only 39 seconds.

“We had to continue to run the way we have been running.  By nature, they are very competitive. I did not have to say much to them before we came over to the park,” Iverson said. “They ran smart the first mile and built from there. It is a very simple race plan. They are trained pretty efficiently to run that well. This year has been a process of breaking down barriers. First breaking 18 minutes was a big deal. Now it is 17 minutes. Our team fed off of that real well.”

2012 was a season that will not be forgotten by many girls’ runners in Illinois. It was a year where records were erased and competition was unbelievable.

Just think…Naperville North will return the majority of their team. Madeline Perez is only a junior. 2013 should be just as fun…maybe better.

The Naperville North Girls XC Team celebrates their state championship. It was the fifth for the Girls Program; the fourth under Coach Dan Iverson. Photo by Michael Newman

Steven Koch took some of the pictures for Illinois Prep Harrier. I appreciate the work that he did this past fall. He did take pictures at the state meet. If there are any pictures that he took that you would like copies of, please e-mail him at S.Koch.Photo@gmail.com

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Niles West Girls Sectional: Perez leads Glenbard West to team title in high powered sectional

Madeline Perez of Glenbard West enroute to the sectional title at Niles West. Photo by Steven Koch.

Skokie, Ill — Madeline Perez of Glenbard West last week called it a “mini-state meet”. She was right. Three of the top 4 teams in the state went to the line at the Niles West Sectional in what it seemed to be a check up a week before the state meet.

It was a chance to see where teams matched up against each other. It was a chance for the individual runners to test themselves one last time.Perez has come on strong the last couple of weeks just being edged out two weeks ago by Emma Fisher at the West Suburban Silver Meet and last week with a convincing win over Fisher and Lake Park’s Kaylee Flanagan. Throw in to this field New Trier’s trio of Courtney Ackerman, Mimi Smith, and Jessica Ackerman, Olivia Ryan of Fenwick, and Maine South’s Emily Leonard you find a pretty tough field.

The first mile started unexpectingly slow. Kaylee Flanagan all year has pushed the pace early daring runners to stay with her. It backfired last week when Perez zoomed by her at the 1 ½ mile point. The pace was 5:25-5:30 and all the runners that expected to be there was there.

As soon as the pack passed the mile mark, the course turned right and Courtney Ackerman took off wanting to steal the race at that point. The trio of Fisher, Perez, and Flanagan were 10 meters back. Then a pack led by Lisa Luczak of Glenbard Westwas another 5 meters behind the trio.

Perez made her move on Ackerman after the 1 ½ point and she did not look back. The rest of the race for Perez was a race against the clock and a race against herself. The gap continued to grow for the Glenbard West junior. Fisher and Luczak moved past a fading Ackerman but they ran out of time. Perez’s margin of victory was an amazing 24 seconds over Fisher. Luczak and Courtney Ackerman finished within two seconds of each other and 10 seconds behind Fisher.

If anything could be told from this race is that Perez will enter the state meet at Detweiller Park as the favorite in the 3A race.

“The pace went out comfortably compared to what it has been the last couple of weeks. I was really happy how it went out,” a happy Perez said after her race. “The minute she (Courtney Ackerman) took off, I knew I just had to stay in contact with her. I felt comfortable in the last mile. I told myself it was one last mile and push the pace and to see how hard I could go.”

The team race was fantastic and it is interesting to look at the dynamics of it. 15 points separated the first three teams. #2 Glenbard West took the team title with 60 points. #4 New Trier was second with 68. Lake Park was third with 75. York and Maine South claimed the other two qualifying spots. When it comes to the state meet next week, it could be closer between these three teams. Glenbard West has their front two in Perez and Luczak who were in the top 3. New Trier’s first three finished 4-6-9. Flanagan was the only Lake Park finisher in top 10, but the Lancers had solid 40 second split between 2 and 5.

“Our plan was to run our race, but we knew we had to go out faster,” said Glenbard West Coach Paul Haas referring to his 3-7 runners slow start last week at regionals. “Sectional is going to go out fast and state is going to go out faster. This is what we train for.  Our 4-5, two freshman, kept moving and moving and that was the difference with us.”

Glenbard West’s fourth and fifth runners (Grace Rogers and Christina Sedall) finished 20th and 21st; New Trier’s four-five of Kathleen Keene and Ooma-Jung Beeman finished 23rd and 24th. Lake Park’s four-five of Brianne Murphy and Nicole Alfano finished 19th and 23rd.

If that order changes then we would’ve had a different outcome. It will be an interesting meet at Detweiller on Saturday to say the least.