Girls Track: Maine South’s Emily Leonard, Megan Lemersal run distance at New Trier InvitationalSkokie 10/29/11 Maine South's Emily Leonard in the Niles West 3A Girls Cross Country Sectional on Saturday. She finished 4th. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 1, 2012 7:32PM
Soon after spring break, Maine South junior Megan Lemersal’s knee started bothering her.
The injury — soreness in her iliotibial band — has kept Lemersal out for much of the outdoor track season. It also halted the near-identical progress Lemersal and junior Emily Leonard made during the fall and winter sports seasons.
Leonard and Lemersal both finished in the top 10 at the state cross country meet and set personal bests during indoor track season. Leonard dipped below 11 minutes in the 3,200-meter run and Lemersal broke Maine South’s record in the 1,600. But they’ve been split up for much of the spring.
“I’ve been doing some strengthening with the trainer,” Lemersal said. “I ice every day and roll it out every day. It’s hopefully getting better, it’s just coming down to the wire for this season.”
Lemersal’s goal is to make the state finals in the 1,600, but because of the lingering injury and the effect it’s had on her training, it’s difficult for the Maine South junior to assess how she’d perform at this point.
“Right now, I can’t pinpoint what time I would be able to reach,” Lemersal said. “My goal is to make finals for the mile, so I’m going to keep pushing for that time.”
While her training partner has been battling an injury, Leonard has been training with Maine South’s boys distance runners. The change has brought an increase in her mileage and intensity. The boys team runs at a faster pace, and typically puts in eight miles in practice, compared to four or five for the girls.
“It’s hard running with them,” Leonard said. “Their pace is obviously much faster than the girls. Megan usually runs with me, but she’s been injured this season so she hasn’t been running with me. It’s much harder and faster. Workouts are much longer with the boys. My mileage has gone up, which is good. I haven’t really tapered yet, so I’m hoping that once I start tapering and doing speed work my time will drop as well.”
At the New Trier Invitational. Lemersal ran with Maine South’s 4x800 relay, which finished third and topped its seed time by almost 18 seconds. Leonard finished third in the 3,200, but was disappointed with her 11:22.38 time, specifically the final lap when New Trier freshman Mimi Smith pulled away.
While both runners know they need to continue dropping time, they’ve had an enormous impact on many of the program’s underclassmen. The work they put in during practice, and their support of the younger runners, has made the transition from last year’s senior-laden team an easy one.
“We always have really good seniors and juniors — they’re kind of the leaders of the team because last year we lost a lot of seniors,” sophomore Olivia Cattau said. “They’re really good. Everyone’s stepped it up for this year.”
Despite being limited by a knee injury this year, Lemersal, a captain who only started running her freshman year, has tried to create a bond among all four classes, while also serving as a model of what the program’s underclassmen can achieve when combining hard work with talent.
“I love being with the younger girls, and especially motivating people,” Lemersal said. “I love when the freshmen and sophomores come up to me after a race and say, ‘Thanks for cheering me on; you really helped me.’ I’m really happy to teach because I had never run before freshman year track. I’d never known what I could do and a lot of the upperclassmen helped me reach my goals. Now, it’s my job to do that for them.”