Katrina Schlenker made an immediate impact on the girls Class 3A cross country scene last fall as an incoming Batavia freshman.
The Schlenker progression reached its crescendo during the four-week stretch of the DuKane Conference meet and the state series.
Schlenker had a clean sweep in the opening three weekends, capturing the inaugural league competition before back-to-back victories at the Hampshire Regional and Waubonsie Valley Sectional.
Then, in her second encounter with Glenbard West wunderkind Katelynne Hart at the state finals at Detweiller Park the first Saturday in November, Schlenker tasted individual defeat for only the second time as Hart won her third consecutive state championship.
Schlenker had to settle for runner-up to Hart. The ninth-grader also fell to the seven-time cross and track state champion at the prestigious Naperville North Twilight Invitational earlier in the season.
But with her season-long list of accomplishments headlined by her runner-up finish at the state meet, Schlenker has been selected as the Kane County Chronicle female cross country athlete of the year.
There was fierce competition for the honor as Rosary freshman Lianna Surtz also won multiple individual titles before also settling for second in state in Class 2A.
But the Schlenker time at Detweiller Park was the ultimate difference in the final decision.
Schlenker toured the three-mile layout in 16 minutes, 7.31 seconds.
“It was the fourth-fastest time in state history,” Batavia coach Chad Hillman said. “She was the fastest freshman in the history of Illinois.”
Schlenker turned heads in her Batavia debut by defeating multiple reigning all-staters to win the prestigious First to the Finish Invitational at Detweiller Park in early September.
“During that time, I hadn’t run a three-mile race [competitively],” Schlenker said of the transition from the two-mile length in middle school. “The Peoria meet was a really good experience for where I could place at state.”
The breakthrough freshman seasons for Schlenker and Surtz did not end at the state finals.
Schlenker edged Surtz by three one-hundredths of a second at the Nike Midwest Regional in Terra Haute, Indiana.
“Speed can definitely play a key at the end of the race when it comes to that last stretch,” said Schlenker, who established new middle-school benchmarks in the 800-and 1,600-meter runs with postings of 2:16 and 4:59-plus last spring. “I don’t think [Surtz] knew I was coming behind her [in Indiana]. I just concentrated on keeping myself calm.”
The girls’ respective fifth- and sixth-place finishes earned them the first appearances ever for an athlete from their programs at the national championships in Portland, Oregon.
But Surtzhad the last say in the final showdown between Batavia residents by placing three spots higher (24th) in Portland.
The Schlenker national run was particularly satisfying for Hillman and his wife Kate, who coached Schlenker at Rotelo Middle School.
“[My wife and I] were excited to have a kid we have both coached before [make the national cut],” Chad Hillman said. “For us to be there [in Portland] was a special thing for both of us.”
“I just wanted to start my season as well as I possibly could for Rosary,” said Surtz,who won four consecutive invitationals before tasting defeat at the hands of Hart at another Peoria meet.
All-Area Girls Cross Country
Alice Abbott, St. Charles East, so.; Mia Gianfrancesco, Batavia, jr.; Sophia McDonnell, Geneva, sr.; Rachel Price, St. Charles North, fr.; Rachel Richtman, Kaneland, jr.; Katrina Schlenker, Batavia, fr.; Lianna Surtz, Rosary, fr.