Girls cross country: Maine South seniors Emily Leonard, Megan Lemersal feed off challenges
Maine South's Megan Lemersal.
runners to watch
Courtney Ackerman, N. Trier Sr.*
Jessica Ackerman, N. Trier Sr. *
Becca Batliner, Barrington Sr.*
Leslie Christiansen, Maine E. So.*
sMolly Kruger, New Trier Jr. *
Cary Reynolds, Barrington Jr.*
Emma Ropski , Maine South Sr.*
Rachel Simon, Barrington Sr.*
Mimi Smith, New Trier So.*
* returning state qualifier
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:10PM
Maine South senior cross country runners Emily Leonard and Megan Lemersal must balance both personal and team goals when choosing their workout programs.
The runners, who finished sixth and ninth, respectively, at last fall’s IHSA Class 3A state meet, must do what is necessary to maintain their status among the elite runners in Illinois. However, the dynamic duo also plays an important role in helping their Hawks teammates train at a high level.
Last season, both Leonard and Lemersal spent time working with the school’s boys team, which allowed both to be pushed to the limit.
This past summer, Lemersal decided her role as senior captain demanded spending more time running with the girls.
“I ran with the boys for the first two weeks (of the summer), and when the girls got going, I switched. I thought that if we all were running together, I could motivate them,” Lemersal said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do. I’m proud of the girls, they’ve shown they can run faster, and they are pushing me too. It’s worked out for everyone and it’s made the team closer, which I like.”
Leonard, a junior, likely will assume a similar leadership role in the future.
After finishing 20th in the state last season, Maine South is hoping to crack the top 10 this year. But reaching that goal will depend heavily on how the runners not named Leonard and Lemersal perform.
Girls coach Jeff Downing recognizes the dilemma.
“We want (Leonard and Lemersal) to be as strong as possible, but we want the other five to be strong too,” he said. “There is a fine line between making sure they’re in shape and making sure the others are ready to run with them.
“We want to see (the front two) really push our girls forward. Last year, at the end of the year, that didn’t happen as much as it could have. Like I said, it’s a fine line between who is being held back. Are we holding back the two up front, or is it the rest of the pack? We’re going to need (the others) to be close to them, maybe not with them mile-per-mile, but close enough to make a difference.”
The good news is that Leonard and Lemersal often are able to push each other during training and competition, something that clearly has been instrumental in the success of both runners.
“It’s really helpful to have (Leonard) there,” Lemersal said. “If I’m lagging behind, she motivates me. We both push each other. We’re both on the same level and know how hard you have to work to get a top 10 finish in the state. I’m grateful to have her.”
The pair also is motivated by talented CSL South opponents they see multiple times per season, specifically New Trier senior Ackerman twins and their sophomore teammate Mimi Smith.
Last fall, Courtney Ackerman finished fourth at state, two spots and 50 seconds ahead of Leonard, who had won the conference title. Smith crossed 10th and Jessica Ackerman was 11th.
“That is the measuring stick,” Downing said. “I can say pretty easily that (Leonard and Lemersal) would not have achieved what they have if they had not seen what the other girls in the conference could do. (Before the season) we look at the schedule and see what days we’ll see New Trier.”
Though Lemersal and Leonard compete against the Ackerman twins in both cross country and track, Lemersal said the rivalry is a friendly one.
“Obviously we’re very competitive with different schools, but it’s really nice and motivational,” she said. “The top girls in our conference cheer for one another. We’re pretty good friends with all the girls.”