STERLING – Sorry, Megan Barnhart. Even if it poured, no one was catching Mailin Struck.
Struck, a German exchange student at Riverside-Brookfield, ran away with the Sterling Invitational on Saturday morning at Hoover Park. But Barnhart used the nearly ideal running conditions – 67 degrees and overcast – to place 14th in 18 minutes, 45 seconds at the 25-team talent-laden event.
Still, imagine if it had rained.
“Before the meet, a lady was saying she hopes it doesn’t rain, and I told her, ‘No! We want it to rain. It’s the perfect weather to run in,’” Barnhart said. “The rain energizes me to run faster. The more rain the better.”
Barnhart and fellow freshman Maggie McPherson held the ninth and 10th positions through the first loop around the park and through the woods. While McPherson eventually slipped to 18th, Barnhart focused on the orange shoes of a trio of Schaumburg juniors who finished eighth through 10th.
“The last mile, I just heard everyone telling me to go get the runner in front of me, and I just tried to stay on her heels,” Barnhart said. “She started to push it, and I started to push it, and that really helps me.”
Elie O’Connell led the foursome of Saxons in the top 10, placing fifth in 18:08, to help Schaumburg place second with 78 points.
Minooka placed all five of its counted runners – paced by third-place finisher Ashley Tutt’s 18 flat – to take the team title with 74 points. Hoffman Estates was third with 94 points, rounding out a three-horse race. The only other team to sneak in under 200 points was Conant with 196.
There was nothing sneaky about Struck’s performance. She blew away the pack from the gun’s fire to finish in 17:02, 52 seconds before DeKalb’s Kelsey Schrader made it through the chute.
At the 2-mile mark, a Clinton coach uttered, “She’s really going to mess things up,” knowing she’d pour down the homestretch as packs passed by in the other direction. About 5 minutes later, a Bettendorf parent hollered “Wunderbahr!” as she glided toward the finish line.
It wasn’t her finest race. That was in Peoria recently, where she experienced her less-than-finest hour.
“It was my best race, even if I went the wrong way,” said Struck, who hails from Pinneburg, which is near Hamburg.
She and another runner were so far out front on the state meet lawn that she accidentally followed lapped runners the wrong way.
“I was upset, especially because it was a really good race,” Struck said. “Normally, I cannot pass people on the finish. I don’t have a good finish. But at that race, I could do it. I was very sad.
“But today was one of my better races. At the last few races, I had like no competition. At least at the beginning today, there were people who stayed with me. That was very good.”
Katie Anderson led Rock Falls with a 36th-place finish in 19:26, 8 seconds faster than sophomore teammate Makaley Velazquez, who placed 39th.
It’s one of the last legs of a farewell tour for Anderson, who fell in love with the sport as a sophomore – despite learning she has asthma in the process – and calls her fellow Rockets and coaches her family.
In the more literal sense, her kid brother, Nick, awaited her at the end of the chute with her inhaler.
He knows he has an important job, albeit a difficult one.
“It’s just hard catching up to her,” Nick said. “I really like watching her and seeing her do so good, and she’s moved up a lot. She’s come from the No. 7 runner to No. 1 and No. 2.”
The Rockets placed 19th as a team with 446 points.
At the 2-mile mark, Rock Falls coach Mark Truesdell hollered, “This is your last race here!” to Anderson. Per usual, he pushed the right button.
“I had to put that in my head, and I had to move up as far as I can,” Anderson said. “It was adrenaline. I tried kicking it, but it was all in my head, all mental.”
She teared up at the thought that she’ll be saying a lot of goodbyes over the next month.
“It’s really sad…I’m gonna start crying,” Anderson said. “It’s been my family since I was a sophomore. It’s so hard to think it’s almost over.”