Sunday, 13 December 2015

Cross country: Two Illinois girls finish top 5 at Foot Locker nationals

Though cross country runners love to rely on the buddy system during races, that's not always possible at bigger meets.

Saturday's Foot Locker Cross Country Championships national meet in San Diego was the exception to the rule for a pair of Illinois state champs.

Peoria Notre Dame's Maryjeanne Gilbert finished a close second and Naperville North's Judy Pendergast was fourth, taking advantage of a dry course and mild weather. Both earned All-America honors by finishing in the top 15; ditto for Fithian Oakwood's Jon Davis, who was 13th in the boys race.

"I didn't know what to expect going in," said Gilbert, this year's Class 2A winner in 16 minutes, 24 seconds. "I didn't know if I'd be in the lead group."

She was. And for most of the race, so was Pendergast, who set the state-meet record of 15:54 to win the 3A championship at Peoria's Detweiller Park last month.

Gilbert settled right in along with fellow leaders Weini Kelati of Leesburg, Va., Nevada Mareno of Leesville, N.C., and Pendergast.

"Judy had an awesome, awesome race," Gilbert said. "To be with her, someone I knew — I think that was very helpful."

Pendergast agreed: "Maryjeanne, she's an amazing runner. Running next to her was really cool."
Pendergast was running in her second national meet in a week, having finished eighth in the Nike Cross Nationals last Saturday in Portland, Ore., in 17 minutes, 20.8 seconds for 5,000 meters. Like Gilbert, she tried not to overthink her preparation for this week.

"I didn't know what (the pace) was going to be, going into this," Pendergast said of Foot Locker.

The plan? "Go out and race my best. The place worked itself out."

Kelati held off Gilbert to win in 17:09.7 for 5,000 meters. Gilbert finished in 17:10.6, followed by Moreno (17:17.6) and Pendergast (17:20.0).

Davis, like Pendergast, was running the back half of the Nike-Foot Locker double. After taking 22nd last week in 15:31.1, the Class 1A state champ was 13th in 15:32.0.

The grind of running four meets — two qualifiers and two national championships — after the Nov. 7 state final took a toll on Davis.

"I think I just kind of ran out of steam at the end of the season," he said.

A spell of iliotibial band tightness sidelined him for a week while training for the national meets. "I wasn't as aerobically fit as I once was," he said.

Davis had no regrets about extending his schedule though.

"The opportunity is great," he said. "At the beginning of the summer, 5 1/2 months ago, I just decided I was going to go to national meets and do really well."

And at last he can chill.

"Right now I'm beginning the first day of my two weeks of doing absolutely nothing," he said. "Ice cream and hot tubs. ... Let it all loose for two weeks and get it out of my system."

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