DuPage County Female Athlete of the Year: Glenbard West's Katelynne Hart
Editor's note: Over the next eight days, the Daily Herald will be naming our 2019-20 high school athletes of the year. We begin today with the DuPage County Female Athlete of the Year, Glenbard West's Katelynne Hart.
Due to demand, last fall Glenbard West hosted a news conference for one of the nation's top senior recruits.
Katelynne Hart chose Michigan to pursue her academic and athletic careers ahead of Wisconsin and Indiana with top-five picks including Colorado and North Carolina.
Since when does a prep cross country and track athlete require a news conference?
When she is recognized as the best.
"She's kind of what the experts say ... the best distance runner. Not the best female distance runner, the best distance runner," said Paul Hass, Glenbard West girls cross country and distance coach.
"To do what she's done over four years -- or three and a half years -- is kind of unprecedented."
Had the COVID-19 pandemic not dashed spring sports Hart likely would have set the bar higher.
She'll enter Michigan having earned four straight state cross country titles and three Gatorade Illinois athlete of the year awards in that sport.
In track she won seven state track titles and two more Gatorade awards.
Plus, she's the 2019-20 Daily Herald DuPage County Female Athlete of the Year.
"She had a lot of options," said Mike McGuire, Michigan women's cross country coach. "We're just extremely happy that she chose Michigan as the place where she wanted to continue her career."
A COVID spring
"I think senior year can be tough because you're trying to make a college decision and also trying to enjoy your last year of high school and balance running and stuff like that," Hart said.
"Though the college decision was definitely very stressful because there were a lot of great options, I think for at least a couple months of track I was proud of myself because I made the college decision and I just really enjoyed it, and enjoyed time with my team."
It didn't last long.
Hart, who owns Class 3A records over 1,600 and 3,200 meters and won each event three straight years, ran in only two Illinois meets during the short indoor season.
Her time of 4 minutes, 45.84 seconds in the 1,600 at the Proviso West Girls Invitational wasn't far off the 4:38.00 she ran outdoors at the 2019 Magis Miles, the fastest ever by an Illinois high schoolgirl. (Her 3,200 time of 9:52.02 in 2018 also is the fastest.)
Hart's 2020 indoor highlight came at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University. Among a field of collegiates -- plus Olympian Jenny Simpson -- she ran 5,000 meters in 16:09.56, which DyeStat reported as the fifth-fastest prep time ever.
Hart didn't mention that. She was more interested in racing with Simpson.
"It was such a cool experience to be in that race and have people cheering for her, because she got the Olympic standard," Hart said.
In 2019 cross county, after setting four course records and becoming the West Suburban Silver's first four-time girls champion, Hart won the Class 3A state meet a fourth straight year.
That put her with Wheeling's Dana Miroballi, Carthage's Katelyn Bastert and St. Anthony's Anna Sophia Keller as the state's sole four-time champions.
"Definitely a lot of emotions," Hart recalled. "I was bummed about missing a record (time), but also being in such a competitive field and getting to be able to win the fourth year consecutively was definitely an awesome feeling.
"I was really happy and my family (parents Chris and Kellee, brother Benton) was there, so it was fun to see them be super-excited as well, as well as my coach. All my teammates ran really well, too, which was awesome to see. Overall it was a good day."
She then finished fourth at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, her seventh All-America honor spanning Foot Locker and the Nike Cross Nationals.
Hass and his wife, Kelly, the Hilltoppers' girls track coach, both said Hart has put team success, such as track relays, ahead of individual gain.
"One of the best things about Katelynne, I've said it 1,000 times before, is she was the consummate team player and it was never really about her probably even when it should have been," Kelly Hass said.
"She was successful because she did everything right. She worked hard, she rested hard, she took care of herself and she kept on learning."
In and out of school. Hart maintained a 4.78 grade-point average on top of athletics and volunteering with the Mawi Learning leadership club and Glenbard West's Medical and Global Giving club.
"What really resonated with us, the track staff and team," Michigan's McGuire said, "is what a quality person she is.
"In all the (36) years I've been coaching I think her visit resonated with more people, with everybody on the team. Everybody just said, 'We've got to have Katelynne on the team.' That speaks to what kind of person she is."
And the type of athlete. For these times, and for all time.
"It definitely was a year of a lot of different stresses and kind of balancing a lot of things," Hart said.
"Obviously I'm bummed that it was cut short, but I hope that everyone's staying healthy and that hopefully we're going to get out of this and be stronger. Just enjoy the little things when we get out, and appreciate when we can race."