Jacobs junior Lauren Van Vlierbergen started the cross country season with a level of anxiety.
On one hand, Van Vlierbergen was coming off a breakthrough sophomore year in both cross country and track. On the other, the nagging pain in her right hip curtailed her normal summer training.
Van Vlierbergen listened to her body, cross-trained hard in a swimming pool, attended practices to be with her teammates, and then, early in August, started running again.
What transpired amazed Golden Eagles coach Kevin Christian.
As the season progressed, Van Vlierbergen reached near optimal racing shape. She won the Fox Valley Conference Invitational, the Class 3A Hononegah Cross Country Regional and Waubonsie Valley Sectional before taking fourth place at state.
“She did everything she possibly could with an injury,” Christian said. “It was impressive. It shows her intensity and how hard she goes after things. Even with her lack of training, she did cross training over the summer. And the way she took off, without a full summer, was … I don’t know … it shows how talented she is, but how hard-working she is to make up for that.”
Van Vlierbergen’s state finish was the highest ever for a Jacobs’ girls runner and helped earn her Northwest Herald Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from local coaches. Woodstock’s Maura Beattie, who finished fifth in Class 2A, also was considered, but Van Vlierbergen’s late-season surge made the difference.
“I was a little worried going through the season,” Van Vlierbergen said. “I didn’t know what kind of shape I was going to be in. I had a really good season and I’m happy with fourth in state. That’s really good.”
Van Vlierbergen will run in the Foot Locker Midwest Regional Meet on Saturday at Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha. If she qualifies, she then will attend the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego on Dec. 14.
Joining Van Vlierbergen and Beattie on the All-Area first team are McHenry’s Lauren Opatrny, Marengo’s Kitty Allen and Cary-Grove’s Morgan Schulz. The second team has Crystal Lake Central’s Maddie Dagley, Cary-Grove’s Talia Duzey, Woodstock’s Kate Jacobs, Marengo’s Allie Sprague and Prairie Ridge’s Erin Wagner.
Van Vlierbergen showed promise as a freshman, then exploded in her sophomore year, placing seventh in Class 3A state cross country and fourth in the Class 3A 1,600 meters in state track.
“From my freshman to sophomore year I realized I really liked to run and would love to do it in college too,” Van Vlierbergen said. “It’s really exciting and there’s so many great colleges to choose from. It may be overwhelming, I don’t know.”
Christian saw the potential two years ago.
“She ran in junior high, but she didn’t run cross country,” he said. “She was kind of new to it. Our goal was to make running fun and get her to love it. And that’s what she did, she had a great time, her best friends were on the team and she loved it. Then, her sophomore year she realized how good she could be and took that work ethic to a level I’ve never seen.”
Van Vlierbergen finished seventh last year at state, won two state track medals and added to her impressive résumé this fall. She even dropped basketball this season to make a run at the Foot Locker National Meet.
“She loves basketball, but she wanted to qualify for Foot Locker,” Christian said. “She’s had some injury issues, the stress fracture in her foot last year and the hip. It kind of scares her. If it wasn’t for those little injuries she’d play basketball.”