Pandemic denies 2 seniors chance at making history at state track meet

Glenbard West's Hart, Marengo's Schirmer will each compete at Big Ten schools

Glenbard West’s Katelynne Hart already had cemented her spot as the top girls distance runner in Illinois history with 11 state championships between cross country and track.

Marengo’s Finn Schirmer delivered one of the top performances in IHSA Boys Track and Field State Meet history last year with three firsts and a fourth in Class 2A sprints and hurdles.

Hart had a shot at becoming the first girl to take the distance triple crown – winning state cross country, the 1,600 meters and 3,200 in the same year – four times.

Schirmer, with seven individual state medals, likely would have added four more to that this season, which would have been the most in state history.

Neither Hart nor Schirmer had the chance to build on their considerable legacies after the COVID-19 pandemic halted all of the IHSA’s spring sports.

Hart, who will run at Michigan, still will be regarded as the best girls runner in state history, one who never lost an individual race in state meet competition.

Schirmer, who will head to Minnesota, has more state medals than any other runner in McHenry County area history.

“State would have been [Saturday], and not to be running on that blue oval [at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium in Charleston] … I had visualized myself winning that last title I was hoping for,” Hart said. “To not have that is tough. I’m just trying to keep busy so I don’t think about it.

“When [the coronavirus outbreak] first started, I thought there was no way outdoor would be canceled or no way state would be canceled. As it started unfolding, it was kind of inevitable that this was going to happen. There definitely was a lot of mixed feelings and emotions, but I want everyone to be safe and healthy. As much as it hurts, it obviously was the best decision to cancel stuff.”

Hart came through with a distance triple in the Class 3A state meet last year, winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. That had only been done once before, when Bloomington Central Catholic’s Kelly Curran did it in Class 1A in 2010.

Hart has the Class 3A state meet records in the 1,600 (4:47.36) and 3,200 (10:12.96) and also has the fastest 3,200 time in state history (9:52.02).

Woodstock’s Kayla Beattie was the first Illinois girl to break 10 minutes in the 3,200, running a 9:56.96 in the Class 2A state meet in 2011. Hart’s 3,200 state record came early in the 2018 season.

Glenbard West coach Kelly Hass believes Hart would have been the first girls runner to capture four distance triple crowns.

“Could she have done it? Based on her indoor times, we’d like to think so,” Hass said. “Katelynne has really handled this crazy time quite graciously. It’s impressive.”

Hart continues training, but also started a garden and has cooked and baked more to help occupy her time. She will head to Michigan in early August.

Schirmer has kept up his running at Marengo’s track but misses the weight lifting. He trains in the morning, then heads to his job at Walmart in Woodstock many afternoons.

“I’m looking forward to when the gyms start opening up again,” he said. “I don’t have a place to lift right now. It’s been a struggle.”

Schirmer has starting blocks and mini hurdles he uses for his workouts. Last season, he won the 110 high hurdles, came right back in the next race to win the 100, then later added a third title in the 300 intermediate hurdles. Schirmer finished fourth in a close 200 race, and along with Aaron Shepard’s fourth in the high jump, Marengo took second as a team with 42 points.

No McHenry County area athlete had ever won three individual state titles in one meet.

With four more medals this spring, Schirmer would have had more individual state medals than any other boys runner in state history. Carlinville’s Babatunde Ridley (1994 to '96) and Bridgeport-Red Hill’s Matt Scherer (1999 to 2002) each finished their careers with 10 individual state medals, while six others had nine.

What Schirmer really wanted was a shot at four titles.

“It would have been exciting,” Schirmer said. “Just having the opportunity to go down again and attempt the same four events would have been fun. I was really looking forward to it. I really wanted those four first-place medals. The three from last year was sweet, but that last 200 kind of stung a little bit. Not being able to get a second chance is upsetting, but it’s something I have to deal with and move on.”

Marengo coach Brad Wignes is excited about what Schirmer can do at the next level.

“There’s more people who could have won [state] medals as well. He’s just one who missed the opportunity,” Wignes said. “At least he’s going to get more chances in his future at Minnesota. This year wasn’t the end of the road for him. It would have been nice. I’m sure he would have had a good year and performed well, but this isn’t it for him.”

Schirmer has been in close contact with Ibrahim Kabia, the Minnesota assistant coach who works with sprints, hurdles and jumps.

“I’m really looking forward to Minnesota and starting the summer workouts they’re going to send us,” Schirmer said. “That’s the next chapter. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

Schirmer was a standout in football, where he was a two-time Northwest Herald All-Area first-team selection and helped the Indians to a 17-6 record over the past two seasons. He also played on Marengo’s 27-4 Class 2A regional basketball championship team.

“I feel like I gave 100% effort on everything,” Schirmer said. “Not only me, but everyone around me, my teammates and coaches, as well. It was an easy atmosphere to be with such good people. The success was everywhere. It was in my teammates’ eyes, my coaches’ eyes. It was in my eyes. My career, as a whole, was more about building those relationships, and now it’s turning into, 'How good do I want to be?'

"High school, you have it easy. Now I have to be on my own. How can I push myself?”

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