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updated: 3/26/2014 9:47 PM

Prospect's Santiago prepares for big finish

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  • Prospect's Christina Santiago, here competing in the state finals in Charleston, is hoping to add to an already extensive list of achievements with a big finishing kick in her senior year.

      Prospect's Christina Santiago, here competing in the state finals in Charleston, is hoping to add to an already extensive list of achievements with a big finishing kick in her senior year.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

By Michael Eaken
Daily Herald Correspondent

There have been plenty of historic kicks in all of sports, none more famous than the one Secretariat used on his march to the Triple Crown in 1973, including come-from-behind victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Prospect senior Christina Santiago is showing the same knack for finishing.

On Saturday at the Mid-Suburban League Indoor meet, Santiago's kick was on full display.

The Knights senior was in an intense battle with Hoffman Estate's sophomore Meagan Biddle; she'd set the tone early and held the lead for the first 1,200 meters.

But with 400 meters remaining Santiago took a lead that she would not surrender despite Biddle nipping at her heels.

Santiago entered the final stretch on the 200-meter track at North Central College in Naperville, swerving around one trailing runner before using her remaining horsepower to cruise across the finish line and take the title in a school-record time of 4:59.

"I definitely rely on my kick," said Santiago. "I like to stick with the pack in the beginning, put myself in good position, and I usually have something left to finish strong."

That is exactly what Santiago is planning to do in her senior season -- finish strong.

And she's off to a great start.

Not only did Santiago win and set a school indoor record in the 1,600, she also took first and set school record in the 800 (2:16.1) at the MSL indoor meet. At the Bud Swanson Invitational on March 14, Santiago added to her legacy by taking first and setting a school record in the 3,200 (10:59.6).

These recent accomplishments just add to her long list that includes five state medals.

Santiago has been a member of the three 3,200 relay teams that have earned three straight state medals, including a third place finish and school record (9:06.18) in the 2012 Class 3A state finals.

She also hit a school record in finishing third in the 1,600 (4:55.67) at the 2013 state finals, along with a sixth place finish in the 1,600 at the 2012 state finals.

So what makes her click?

"Competition," said Prospect distant coach Pete Wintermute, who will take over as head coach for the Knights next season. "She is probably the fiercest competitor I've seen. She is money in the big meets."

And a Knights team that has earned back-to-back MSL titles is looking to cash in with her again this year.

Santiago has learned and trained with the best during her four years at Prospect.

Her former teammates include Brooke Wolfe who earned a combined six state medals in cross country and track, including a sixth-place medal in the 3,200 (10:47.88) in which she set the school record.

Lauren Polanski is another, she combined for five state medals in track and cross country, including a sixth place finish in the 800 (2:13.7) in which she set a school record. And Laura Maibuecher should also be included; she combined for four state medals in track and cross country.

"They were extremely important," added Santiago of her former teammates' influence. "Just having them at practice, always having someone competitive and hard working. It made it so much easier. I don't think I would be the runner I am today without them."

Santiago doesn't only get it done on the track. She has also been a straight 'A' honor roll student for her entire four years while tackling a heavy advanced placement course load and cruising to a 5.0 GPA.

She also has been a member of the Prospect tennis team for four years, earning all-conference honors her sophomore and senior years and advancing to the state meet.

And if that's not enough, she also volunteers as tutor every Wednesday night for the ESL program.

Santiago's accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by Prospect coach Dave Wurster, who is completing his 30th and final year as Knights cross country and track coach.

"She has always found a way to be successful," added Wurster. "Whatever it is, whether it's a race, or whether it's in the classroom, she always puts herself in a position to have success."

For almost four years Santiago has found a way to get it done, whether it's coming behind to win the MSL 1,600 outdoor title last May, or grinding out a 2:15.3 split in the 3,200 relay, or hitting a 61.5 split in the closing 1,600 relay. Her shiftiness and closing speed are hard to match.

Yet the Knights senior knows it will take a little bit more this year to continue her success, especially in the 1,600 in a stack field that includes Glenbard West's defending Class 3A 1,600 and 3,200 champion Madeline Perez, Jacobs' rising junior star Lauren VanVlierbergen and a group of upstart MSL runners that include Biddle, Palatine sophomore Kelly O'Brien and Rolling Meadow senior Vanessa Sanchez.

So Santiago enters this season with a target on her back and a bit more pressure, especially after her sizzling indoor season.

"There definitely is," said Santiago of the increased scrutiny. "It was kind of nice being the wild card and just going out and running your own race."

But it will take more than that to rattle the unflappable senior.

"It's going to be fun," she said of the impending challenges. "It'll be the last time I can leave everything on the track, and go out and have fun. There will be great competition; I just want to see how fast I can go."

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