All-Area Girls Cross Country: Runner of the Year and First Team
New Trier senior Courtney Ackerman is Pioneer Press' girls cross country Runner of the Year. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 11, 2013 6:24PM
Elite cross country runners never seem to stop competing, even after the high school season has ended. New Trier senior Courtney Ackerman finished fifth at the Nike Midwest Cross meet Nov. 11 in Terre Haute, Ind., and she placed sixth at the national meet in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 1 (finishing in 19 minutes, 43 seconds).
The Illinois-bound Ackerman — who became the first Trevians cross country runner to earn four all-state honors at the Class 3A state meet — was named Pioneer Press’ female Runner of the Year after taking third at state. She previously finished fourth, 17th and sixth at the state meet.
Ackerman won four consecutive major meets this season at Peoria Woodruff Sept. 8, Libertyville Sept. 15, Wheaton North Sept. 29 and the Central Suburban League Oct. 13. Her sister, Jessica, was there for every stride, but the twins will go their separate ways next season (Jessica will run at Princeton).
What is the earliest memory you have of running cross country with your sister Jessica? “The first time I ran cross country was the summer before my freshman year. Jess and I ran with the New Trier cross country team, and there was only one other freshman running in the group with us, so I was very intimidated by the older girls. I was a really shy freshman and did not know anyone, but the upperclassmen were so nice and welcoming to us right from the start. That’s when I started loving cross country.”
When did you decide that it was time to go your separate ways for college? “When Jess and I began to seriously talk about college, so probably junior year, one of the first things we established was that we did not want to have the same college experience. We were both ready to split up and go our separate ways. It will be hard to leave her, but college is all about making the transition to the next phase in life.”
Will running without Jessica next season seem strange to you? “I am not sure. In my entire running career, I think I have only been on one or two runs alone, but that is not going to change next year. I may not have Jess, but I will have all of my new teammates at U of I to run with in practice so I do not think the runs will seem very different at all.”
Will it take a while for the Ackerman sisters to appreciate their careers at New Trier? “It is hard to take much credit at all because a lot of our success has come from such a strong team and a great coach (Jim Burnside). The team provided such a sound base of support for us to work off of, and Burnside really has a great program going. I had no idea how to train until I started running for him.”
How did your time as a soccer player help you become a better distance runner? “I liked playing soccer when I was younger, but I do not think it contributed much to me being a better runner. I was not that good at soccer and was nowhere near as dedicated to it as I am to cross country. That may have helped me not to burn-out on running since I only jumped into it full-force freshman year and not in junior high like some kids.”
One of your trademarks is the long pink socks you wear during a race. Is there something significant about that? “Since my sophomore year cross country season, I have had pretty consistent shin pain. My grandma bought me my first pair of pink compression socks to help minimize the stress on my shins. At first, I used to only wear them during practice, but she would ask me why I did not wear them during races and I could never come up with a response. Finally, I just started wearing them in all my races, and I think they really do help.”
One of your interests is downhill skiing. Is there any similarity between skiing and long-distance running? “It’s a tradition of my family to go snow skiing out in Colorado every year. Jess and I have gone since we were 8 (years old). Snow skiing is really different from running but it is fun to go out there and do something a little different for a change.”
Courtney Ackerman, New Trier
See Runner of the Year Q & A.
Jessica Ackerman, New Trier
The Princeton-bound senior became the second-most decorated runner at New Trier — behind twin sister Courtney — with a 16th-place finish at the Class 3A state meet (17:00). That made Jessica Ackerman a three-time all-state runner.
Lauren Conroy, Barrington
The freshman made quite a debut this season and became the Mid-Suburban League champion. She was second at the Grant Regional and came back from a disappointing Schaumburg Sectional finish (11th) to take 19th at the Class 3A state meet in 17:01.
Jill Hardies, Hinsdale Central
The first Red Devils runner to finish all-state for three years ended her career with an eighth-place result at Class 3A state, finishing in 16:49 despite running with a stress fracture in her left foot. The senior won the Lyons Regional title, took fourth at Wheaton North Sept. 29 and was second at Peoria Woodruff Sept. 8.
Emily Leonard, Maine South
The junior won the season-opening District 207 meet and was the runner-up at the Central Suburban South meet and at the Class 3A Loyola Regional. She finished ninth (in a school-record 16:51) at the state meet. Leonard became the first Hawks runner to earn all-state in three seasons. “She has been very consistent, and it is quite impressive for her to have back-to-back top 10 finishes (at state),” coach Jeffrey Downing said.
Olivia Ryan, Fenwick
The two-time East Suburban Catholic champion became the highest finisher in school history at the Class 3A state meet by finishing fifth (16:43). The sophomore started the season with titles at Joliet, St. Ignatius and Oak Park-River Forest and took second at the Peoria Invite Sept. 29.
Mimi Smith, New Trier
The Trevians’ next great runner has already earned back-to-back all-state honors, finishing 12th at Class 3A state (16:56) this year and 10th in 2011. The sophomore was a back-to-back runner-up at Libertyville and Wheaton North in September.
— George Wilcox