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Girls cross country: McKenzie Altmayer chasing field, former Geneva running standouts

Geneva junior girls cross country runner McKenzie Altmayer has shifted her focus to cross country and track after also playing soccer and basketball.
Geneva junior girls cross country runner McKenzie Altmayer has shifted her focus to cross country and track after also playing soccer and basketball.

McKenzie Altmayer juggled soccer and basketball before taking up distance running in seventh grade.

That’s about the time the Geneva girls cross country program was at the peak of its recent heyday, a run that included consecutive Class 3A team state championships in 2007 and 2008.

Last weekend, Altmayer steered discussion to the dynasty once more. Her runner-up finish of 17:02 at the IHSA Class 3A St. Charles East Sectional at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve marked the second-fastest time in the program’s steep history.

Four years ago, Kelly Whitley set the standard by finishing in 16:43 at the state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. At the time, Almayer admittedly “wasn’t into the whole running scene” or charting the standout athletes of the past. She certainly is now.

“Now that I’m going to the same meets they went to and I see how they did there, I so wish I would have followed them because what they did was unreal,” Altmayer said. “And I’m really jealous of what they did because that’s so great.”

Not unlike the majority of the sectional field – only Streamwood senior Gabby Juarez (16:58) was faster – Altmayer since has left her former sports behind to fully pursue cross country and track.

She stopped playing soccer her freshman year, and elected not to continue as a guard in the girls basketball program this season.

Even before then, Altmayer hovered in the stratosphere of Whitley – a triathlete now running at Wisconsin – Illinois-Chicago standout Tess Ehrhardt and other top Vikings runners of the past. In 2012, she finished her debut state meet in a 36th-place 17:27, which still was among the top marks in program history.

Altmayer credits an offseason camp with Arlington Heights-based SUB5 Peak Performance Running for helping bolster her strategies and lowering her times this fall.

In mid-September, she ran the state course in 17:26 at the First to the Finish Invitational, but hopes the weather and stakes help conspire to an even faster effort two months later.

“Since it’s so wide open at Detweiller, you always have so many people yelling for you, shouting for you, and that encouragement, you don’t really get anywhere else,” Altmayer said. “So it really propels you forward.”

Geneva finished as sectional team runner-up to Naperville North while besting its projected seed according to DyeStat IL, the noted cross country and track website.

Returners such as senior Brooke Nusser, junior Emma McSpadden and sophomores Emma Ehrhardt and Mary Grace Neville have flanked Altmayer throughout the season.

Freshmen Sarah Mozden and Taryn Christy rounded out the top seven at sectionals. Classmate Brittany Caskey was the team’s sixth runner at regionals, fueling Geneva’s depth and coach Bob Thomson’s dilemma about the final two state spots.

“It’s a nice problem to have when you have a little depth,” Thomson said, “but sometimes I wish it was more cut and dried.”

For Altmayer, the only thing close to regret on her part boils down to revisionist history.

She still wishes she were more in tune to Geneva’s cross country past, but also relishes the opportunity to thrust herself into the narrative.

“I was really pumped that I finally moved up,” Altmayer said.

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