BUFFALO GROVE — As a freshman in 2012, Buffalo Grove’s Kaitlyn Ko made quite a name for herself as a cross country runner.
The significance of her accomplishments — third place at the Mid-Suburban League meet, runner-up at the Class 3A Schaumburg Sectional — exceeded her level of experience. But what made those achievements all the more remarkable is that she was sharing her legs with another sport.
A soccer player since she was 5 years old, Ko was a member of the club team Eclipse last fall. Several times during the cross country season, she was faced with a decision dictated by the inflexibility of the calendar.
“Doing two sports in the same season there were really lots of conflicts,” Ko said. “Soccer was getting complicated with me always having to travel around. (At times) I didn’t know what to do.”
With soccer games scheduled on the same days as meets, Ko was forced to choose. Those dilemmas bled into track season. Tired of the constant tug of war, she made a decision this summer — she was going to focus on one sport.
“During track season, it got to be too much. It was crazy. I could see a problem,” Ko said. “I decided it was probably a better idea to continue running over soccer.”
One recent result indicates Ko made the correct decision. Saturday, the Bison participated in the First to the Finish Invitational at Detweiller Park in Peoria. With 27 teams — including last year’s 3A team state champion Naperville North — competing, the field was arguably the strongest Ko will face until sectionals.
With 800 meters to go, Ko was in a lead pack of runners with Hinsdale Central freshman Alexa Haff and Jacobs junior Lauren Van Vlierbergen. Haff made a move with 400 to go, separating herself from Ko and Van Vlierbergen. At the 250 mark, Ko countered.
“It was the most amazing thing to watch,” Bison coach Sara Farrell said. “She was sprinting at the finish.”
Ko passed Haff before the finish line, winning the race by two seconds. Her time of 17 minutes was a personal record, 40 seconds better than she was at the same meet a year ago.
What was the difference? Ko said freeing herself of the burden of soccer has had a positive impact both mentally and physically.
“I feel like now I don’t have that extra thing. Last year it was kind of ‘I don’t know if I can get to that next level,’ ” Ko said. “Now there are no excuses, there is nothing in the way.”
Farrell added: “Last year, her legs were overworked. This year she’s just running and now she has more confidence in herself and the course.”