Dec. 10--Sandburg's Dylan Jacobs believed he had one more good race left before the end of his prep cross country career, and he was right.
A week after finishing 13th in the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., Jacobs returned to the West Coast and won the Foot Locker Nationals title Saturday in San Diego.
"I was kind of disappointed with how I ran last week," Jacobs said after the Foot Locker race. "I thought I could do better."
The senior did, covering the 5,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 19.7 seconds. He won by 3.6 seconds and led a banner effort by the five-member Illinois contingent. Lyons senior Danny Kilrea, who won the Class 3A state title last month, finished third in 15:27.3 and Young senior Clayton Mendez rallied to take ninth in 15:45.0.
In the girls race, Glenbard West sophomore and reigning 3A champ Katelynn Hart was runner-up at 17:22.5, while Naperville North senior Sarah Schmitt finished eighth at 17:56.8.
"It's a big statement," Jacobs said of the strong showing by Chicago-area runners. "Illinois is the best running state in the country. We don't get the respect all the time."
That should change, now that Sandburg has become the first school in the nation to produce multiple Foot Locker champs. Lukas Verzbicas won the event in both 2009 and '10.
Jacobs talked to Verzbicas in the run-up to the meet. He also had the benefit of advice from Sandburg coach John O'Malley, who had guided Verzbicas to his two Footlocker titles.
"It speaks volumes to the coaching staff we have, how they improve the runners," Jacobs said.
In Saturday's race, Jacobs improved significantly after the first mile. "I wanted to make a big move on the downhill (part of the course)," he said. "I was able to go from 10th to third."
Kilrea made a charge at around the 2-mile mark, but Jacobs held on and beat runner-up Graydon Morris of Aledo, Texas, by 3.6 seconds.
Familiarity with the event and the course -- he was 11th in the 2016 Foot Locker race -- gave Jacobs a leg up on his competition.
"I was very fortunate to go through it last year," he said. "That really helped me this year."
Jacobs and Kilrea took a conservative approach early. "First mile, me and Dylan had the same strategy of not pushing it too much, seeing how the race played out," Kilrea said.
Then Jacobs made his move and, Kilrea said, "the pace accelerated after that."
Kilrea had no regrets.
"I definitely put in 100 percent effort," he said. "I was super happy for all the Midwest guys. I came into this with the goal of getting the win. (But) someone else today was the best in the nation."
Mendez, who was the Class 3A state runner-up behind Kilrea, passed six runners after the 2.5-mile mark on Saturday to move into the top 10.
"I had gotten a pretty tough start," Mendez said. "My whole race, especially going into the last mile, was about working my way up. ... I kind of hurled myself down the last hill. You can't gently run down that thing."
Mendez appreciated the chance to make a statement for Public League runners, who haven't always received a lot of respect.
"The one thing I love the most outside of my family and the people I care about -- it's my city," he said. "To close it out like that -- I do it for everyone back home who loves the sport as much as me."
On the girls side, Hart and the rest of the field watched as Claudia Lane of Malibu, Calif., broke away early and cruised to a 19-second win.
"I just tried to stay in that second to fifth range," Hart said.
She settled into a pack with a fellow Midwest runner, Olivia Theis of Lansing, Mich.
"We tried to stay together and finish," said Hart, who edged Theis by a tenth of a second.
For Schmitt, who took eighth individually and helped Naperville North finish second at Nike Cross Nationals the week before, the end of her final high school cross country race brought a wave of emotion.
"I definitely was able to think about all the things I've gone through to get here," she said. "I almost started crying, (thinking), 'This is the last one.'"
Like her fellow Illinois runners, Schmitt was glad to have the chance to shine on a national stage.
"It's a testament to (the fact) that we're tough, we work hard, we battle," she said. "We're not just flat land and corn and wheat."
(c)2017 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)
Visit The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.) at www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News