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Katelynne Hart’s career holds up, even with harsh ending

As many victory laps Katelynne Hart has had around Eastern Illinois University’s blue oval, she was hoping for a few more later this month.

Glenbard West’s Katelynne Hart wins the IHSA Regional race in an unofficial time of 15:57, Glendale Heights.
Glenbard West’s Katelynne Hart wins the IHSA Regional race in an unofficial time of 15:57, Glendale Heights.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

As many victory laps Katelynne Hart has had around Eastern Illinois University’s blue oval, she was hoping for a few more later this month.

But there will be no more state meets in Charleston for the Glenbard West senior, who can still lay claim to perhaps the greatest resume ever for a female distance runner in Illinois.

With the IHSA announcing the cancellation of the spring sports state series because of the coronavirus pandemic on April 21, Hart will finish with 11 state titles. She was a four-time champ in Class 3A cross country, and won the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in 3A track three straight seasons. Last spring, she also won the 800.

The IHSA announcement saddened Hart, who will continue her career at Michigan. But it didn’t surprise her.

“Once we found out school was going to get canceled, I definitely think we expected it,” Hart said. “When I started getting emails from coaches and other people, that’s when it really hit me.

“And tears were shed.”

Hart did have an abbreviated senior track season indoors before the IHSA shut down competition in mid-March. But the irony was, it was light on competition as she and her coaches looked to the future.

“It’s funny, as soon as all the stuff started happening, I was heading to New York to run a 5K and a mile,” Hart said. “I was just about to run that and I didn’t get a chance.”

Hart made a splash in her 2020 debut, running the fourth fastest 5K by a high school runner — 16 minutes, 9.56 seconds — in Boston on Feb. 15.

“The weird part for me is I ran in Boston ... and I didn’t really race again till North Central and Proviso [West in early March],” she said. “We had talked about saving myself.”

When Hart did return that week, she was clearly ready.

“The last open race she ran a 4:45 mile at Proviso West by herself,” said Paul Hass, Glenbard West’s cross country coach and assistant track coach. “[By the] second lap, she lapped the field. She was in great shape and coming on strong.”

Hart also was facing a big decision: Should she attempt the 800-1,600-3,200 triple again in track?

“After I did it last year, I was thinking, ‘I’m done with that, I’m going to stick with the mile, 2-mile,’” Hart said with a laugh. “After my first couple races [this year], I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go for it again.’”

Hass said there were plenty of conversations about Hart’s event lineup for this spring. “Our plans were pretty fluid,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said she didn’t mention it.

“Unfortunately, those scenarios never got a chance to play themselves out.”

It’s tough for Hass to think about what might have been. “I think our team was maybe going to be one of the best we’ve ever had,” he said, with Hart as the centerpiece.

But it’s not to be, so Hart instead is focusing on schoolwork and training as her senior year winds down.

But that’s not all.

“I’ve been doing a lot of cooking,” Hart said. “And we just got a new puppy. He’s 10 weeks old, he’s awesome, but you have to watch him like a baby.”

Now, she has plenty of time for that.