Jacobs sophomore Lauren Van Vlierbergen was resigned to not running the 800 meters and instead concentrating on the 1,600.
After a standout cross country season, Van Vlierbergen and assistant coach Kevin Christian (the cross country head coach) figured she would do better at the longer distance.
But then Van Vlierbergen went and ran an 800 in 2:13.67 last week, the area’s best time by almost nine seconds and a performance that would have earned her a Class 3A state medal last year.
“I can’t decide if I’m going to do the 800 or 1,600, I’m still not 100 percent,” she said. “I’m still kind of torn.”
Van Vlierbergen does not have to choose just yet. For Thursday’s Fox Valley Conference Track and Field Meet she will do both, along with anchoring the Golden Eagles’ 4x800 and 4x400 relay teams.
The meet starts at 4 p.m. at Grayslake Central’s William Eiserman Stadium. Cary-Grove will be shooting for its fifth consecutive team championship. Sam Baran, Molly Barnes, Kayla Giuliano and Van Vlierbergen will be looking to break Dundee-Crown’s 4x800 record from 2011 of 9:39.01.
Christian and Eagles head coach Ryan Lemanski expect that to happen.
“There’s no limit to what she can do,” Lemanski said. “Every day you expect something amazing to happen and it’s never anything less with her.”
Along with the 4x800 and 800 school records, Van Vlierbergen’s 4:58.10 gave her the school record in the 1,600 and her 10:44 time in the 3,200 was also a school mark, earning her quite a distinction.
“She basically has every record that [Olympian Evan] Jager has [for the boys],” Christian said. “We stack on races and it’s no problem for her. This’ll be the best test [at conference] where we really stack some races against good competition.”
Van Vlierbergen almost feels invincible this entire year. She increased her summer mileage from 30 to 40 miles a week and had an outstanding cross country season. She won the Fox Valley Conference title and her seventh-place finish at the IHSA Class 3A State Meet was the best in school history.
And she did that with a near stress fracture in her left foot. For the last month of the season, she trained in a pool more than on land.
“I was very happy to get seventh place after battling injuries and stuff,” Van Vlierbergen said. “I’m hoping I can come back next year even stronger.”
Van Vlierbergen spent her winter as a reserve guard on the Jacobs girls basketball team and ran when she could on off days. Lemanski and Christian marvel at her performances.
Van Vlierbergen won the 1,600 meters at the McHenry County Meet on April 20 against Crystal Lake Central’s Haley Staples (the Class 2A state cross country champion in 2011) and Marengo’s Katie Adams (a Class 2A 1,600 state champion).
“She’s running some of these races and she’s not even tired [at the finish],” Lemanski said. “You look at the most talent-rich mile [at county] I have ever seen and she was running comfortably, just running to win. And it looked like the others were struggling to keep up with her.”
Lemanski and Christian have to decide what to do at next Thursday’s IHSA Class 3A Belvidere North Sectional. Lemanski says Van Vlierbergen wants the state title this year in the 1,600, which may preclude her also running the 800, except she’s so good at that race too.
“She’s unique,” Christian said. “She’s so focused. She couldn’t work any harder. She puts everything she possibly can into every day she possibly can.”