Katrina Schlenker caused a mini-ripple even before she arrived at Batavia this fall.
The freshman runner captured the middle-school equivalent of the Triple Crown of distance racing as an eighth-grader during the previous school year.
Schlenker won a state championship in cross country last fall before establishing new track standards with her wins at 800 meters (2 minutes, 16 seconds) and 1,600 meters (5:59.2) in the spring.
The Bulldogs have five returning starters, including all-stater Mia Gianfrancesco, from their Class 3A girls cross country team from a season ago.
Batavia is even more highly regarded – based on the preseason coaches’ and internet polls – than a year ago with the addition of Schlenker.
The ninth-grader certainly did not disappoint in her high school debut Sept. 8 at the First to the Finish Invitational at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, site of the state finals.
“I was really surprised when I crossed the finish line,” Schlenker said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Schlenker made a late push to overtake Barrington sophomore Molly Fitzpatrick to win the prestigious Class 3A Peoria title in 16:42.6.
It was only the third time Schlenker had run a 3-mile cross country race.
“My goal was to break 17 [minutes] for the end of the season,” Schlenker said. “I have to make a new goal.”
Two-time defending state champion Naperville North won the team title.
Batavia finished fifth with 202 points.
“I created my strategy the last mile of the race,” Schlenker said. “I just decided that the last 400 [yards] I would make a move. I just wanted to do well and see where everyone was at.”
Gianfrancesco was the Bulldogs’ second-fastest runner in finishing 20th.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Gianfrancesco said of her freshman teammate defeating multiple returning all-state runners. “She just puts in so much work and time. She just loves the sport.”
The Bulldogs’ season-opening invitational at St. Charles East was rained out the week before, so Schlenker made Detweiller Park her official coming-out party.
“I love that course,” Schlenker said. “It’s the only course I have ever run three miles on.”
Surtz wins four in a row
Schlenker has considerable company – although not in Class 3A – from a runner from her hometown of Batavia in Rosary freshman Lianna Surtz.
“[Surtz] is insane,” Schlenker said. “She is just a great girl. I train with her. She is so fast, and I love running with her.”
Last weekend at the Royals’ Invitational held at Marmion, Surtz captured her fourth consecutive major title in as many tries in taming the 3-mile course in 17:54.56. Surtz opened her season with a course record 17:15.5 at the home of two-time reigning Class 3A runner-up and nationally ranked Yorkville.
She also had dominant wins at the Aurora City Championship and St. Ignatius’ Connelly Invitational.
Surtz had a relatively late introduction to running.
“I started playing soccer when I was in kindergarten,” Surtz said. “That was my passion.”
Rosary coach Vic Meade believes the single-digit scoring outputs Surtz registers in major competitions will pay dividends for the Royals in the Class 2A state series.
The Royals have five returning starters from a team that placed 23rd at state.
“Right now, that’s a bunch of points we’re saving [with Surtz as the frontrunner],” Meade said.
Surtz and Rosary will be at Detwiller this weekend for the Peoria Notre Dame Invitational.
“I definitely love that course,” Surtz said.