Jacobs’ Lauren Van Vlierbergen running into record books

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Lauren Van Vlierbergen continues to state her case as one of the top female athletes in the history of Jacobs.

The senior captured her third major girls cross country invitational of the season two weekends ago at Sunrise Park in Bartlett.

“It’s challenging sometimes to push myself,” Van Vlierbergen said after winning the event by more than 30 seconds in 17:30.4.

The Bartlett event featured four of the top runners in the area; the quartet did not disappoint.

St. Charles North, which finished runner-up to Schaumburg at the 14-team invitational, has a freshman extraordinaire in Audrey Ernst.

“She hasn’t finished worse than third place at any of our invites,” St. Charles North coach Shari Hayes said after the ninth-grader placed runner-up to Van Vlierbergen in 18:04.

Van Vlierbergen, fourth overall last fall at the Class 3A state meet, also denied Streamwood senior Gabby Juarez, a returning state qualifier, and Huntley senior Kelly Meehleib.

“I just try to stick with the lead group of girls,” Van Vlierbergen said of her race strategy. “I’m excited for how the team and (sister Kathryn) are going to do. We finished third (at Bartlett).”

Van Vlierbergen captured the Class 3A 800-meter state championship last spring by nearly three seconds to etch her name in school history.

The senior has finished no worse than second at any of the Eagles’ major meets this fall with victories at St. Charles East and the McHenry County Invite.

“(Van Vlierbergen) is just crazy good,” said Juarez, who was third at Bartlett.

Juarez is an inspirational story in her own right.

The Sabres’ senior battled an iron-deficiency issue last fall before recovering to finish in the top 50 at the state meet.

Juarez then became a two-time All-Stater in track and field by placing in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at Eastern Illinois University last May.

“I like taking advantage of her competition,” Juarez said of running against Van Vlierbergen.

“I’m pretty pleased with this season. Going into that race (Bartlett), I had run against Audrey (Ernst) twice, so I knew what to expect.”

Juarez has won invitational titles in Crystal Lake and Rockford this season.

St. Charles North coach Hayes had plenty of fair warning a promising freshman was coming into the program this year.

“I have been working with (Ernst) since she was in fourth grade,” the North Stars’ coach said. “She competes at the highest level every time. You can’t coach that.”

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