Another step forward for Jacobs' Van Vlierbergen
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PEORIA -- Jacobs junior Lauren Van Vlierbergen has shown she is talented and tough.
On Saturday at the Class 3A girls state cross country meet she put both together.
Van Vlierbergen got off to a great start, hung tight in top four in the second mile, then held off a strong challenge from Oak Park-River Forest freshman Mary Blankemeier at the finish to take fourth place in a time of 17:07 at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
"I am ecstatic," said Van Vlierbergen, who took 7th in Class 3A as a sophomore. "I knew what to expect this season and I knew I had to get out fast."
New Trier junior Mimi Smith won the individual title in 16:43, followed by Hinsdale Central freshman Alexa Haff (16:45) and defending Class 3A champion Madeline Perez of Glenbard West (17:03).
Glenbard West placed four girls in the top 21 in taking the Class 3A state title with 75 points. Defending Class 3A champion Naperville North (112 points) took second, with New Trier (173 points) third.
Palatine (214 points) and Lockport (237 points) rounded out the top five.
Last year Van Vlierbergen overcame a stress fracture to secure all-state honors, and suffered a hip injury during track season that put a drag on summer training.
But the Golden Eagles' junior did not let that stop her as she pushed through a strong season that included the Fox Valley Conference, regional and sectional titles.
Saturday she capped it with her top-five finish.
"Our goal today was to give herself a chance, and that is what she did," said Jacobs' coach Kevin Christian of Van Vlierbergen's fast start. "She has more focus and intensity than anybody I've ever met."
Van Vlierbergen stayed with eventual state champion Smith through the first two miles, as the two paced off the push by early co-leaders Perez and Haff.
Smith made her title-winning move just after the second mile and Van Vlierbergen tried to make a push with her.
"I know she always picks it up," said Van Vlierbergen of Smith's final mile. "I tried to stay with her for as long as I could. She has a good kick."
Van Vlierbergen earned her second cross country state medal and had two state medals in track last spring bringing her total state medal count to four.
"It's been fun," said Christian, "and I think she has an even higher ceiling. She missed most of summer training and still had a great season.
"Last year she had a stress fracture and this year she had a hip issue, but she never let it get her down. It almost makes her work harder. It shows her toughness."
And on Saturday Van Vlierbergen put it all together.
Streamwood junior Gabby Juarez made the most of her first state appearance easing to a 49th-place finish.
"I didn't quite race the way I wanted, but I'm still happy," said Juarez, who got off to a fast start but maybe a bit too fast as she faded a bit in the final two miles but still finished in the top 50.
"If you would have told me I'd be racing at state at the beginning of the year I wouldn't have believed it. It's truly a privilege to race down here and it can only help me next year"
Cary-Grove junior Morgan Schultz was in position to medal in the final mile but suffered dehydration and fell approaching the finish. She showed a lot of guts by eventually finishing the race.
Cary-Grove junior Talia Duzey (18:06), who finished 25th in Class 3A last season, secured 54th place for the Trojans.
"I thought they both raced very well," said C-G coach Mark Anderson of his two Trojan leaders. "I'm glad they are both coming back and both get another chance at this."
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