Katelynne Hart said she had low expectations entering the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships National Finals.
Her coach at Glenbard West, Paul Haas, said she entered "almost on a whim."
The Hilltoppers sophomore placed second Saturday at the 39th Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. Hart's time of 17 minutes, 22.5 seconds over the 5-kilometer course trailed only defending champion Claudia Lane. The junior out of Malibu, California, led start to finish to win in 17:03.4.
Naperville North senior and Indiana University recruit Sarah Schmitt placed eighth, duplicating her finish at the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) Dec. 2 in Portland. Hart finished fourth in that race, the top placement ever by an Illinois girl.
The Foot Locker meet, pitting the top 10 female and male qualifiers from four nationwide regionals, capped a long but outstanding cross country season for Illinois teams and athletes.
Headed by Schmitt's eighth-place finish at the NXN on Dec. 2, Naperville North's girls placed second overall while Downers Grove North's boys finished fourth. Although Foot Locker is not a team race, male and female runners out of the Midwest regional compiled the best overall results with three Illinois boys in the top 10 including overall winner Dylan Jacobs of Sandburg.
"We became a team," said Schmitt, who moved up from 27th position at the half-mile mark.
"It's really a good course, in that if you use the course you can move pretty well and it definitely keeps you engaged," Schmitt said of the Foot Locker layout at hilly Balboa Park in San Diego.
Glenbard West coach Haas said Hart was focusing on the NXN and made a last-minute decision to register for Foot Locker Nationals. Once in San Diego, Hart kicked it in.
"I thought she ran really smart," Haas said. "She just let Claudia Lane take it out and she ran within herself."
With only the possibility of a freak mishap sabotaging Lane's victory after she bounded out to a huge early lead, the rest of the Foot Locker pack ran for runner-up. Inevitably it came down to Hart and Olivia Theis, a senior out of Lansing, Michigan, who had beaten Hart at the regional meet Nov. 25.
The two girls strode down the final incline shoulder to shoulder and Hart kicked past Theis by one-tenth of a second.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," Hart said. "I tried to keep it close and in the end I felt good and tried to bring it home."
For Naperville North, coming off its second straight Class 3A cross country title, it was the sixth straight year coach Dan Iverson's Huskies qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals. Their second-place NXN finish eclipsed the fourth-place standing in 2014.
For Hart, 2-for-2 in Illinois Class 3A cross country individual titles, she'll catch her breath before track season. Last spring she won Class 3A 1,600 and 3,200 races to help the Hilltoppers to the team title with Naperville North in third, separated by just 7 points.
"I definitely think I need a break now, but I love racing and running," Hart said. "I think going an extra few weeks is always fun, and Nike and Foot Locker do a great job running these meets, it's super-special."