Former Lyons Twp standout Danny Kilrea got through hot and humid conditions in good shape
Text by Adam Regan
MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Michigan's Jessi Larson and Notre Dame's Danny Kilrea both saw their freshman seasons end in heartbreaking manners this spring, finishing just short of making their first appearances at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Although they reacted quite differently to missing out on the chance to show what they're made of on college's grandest stage, Larson and Kilrea made sure their seasons didn't end on sour notes by extending them further.
The distance runners dominated their events to kick off the first night of the USA Track and Field Junior National Outdoor Championships. Larson punched her ticket to the Pan American Junior Championships in July after winning the women's 5,000 meters while Kilrea took care of business in the 10,000 meters.
"I've always had this dream so to actually do it should be a really fun experience," Larson said.
Both Larson and Kilrea had productive cross-country seasons where they qualified for the NCAA Championships in November, but their performances at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville, Florida weren't quite enough.
Larson, a Saline (Michigan) High product, ran 16:26.25 at the University of North Florida and missed a trip to Austin, Texas by one spot.
She viewed the finish as a good start to her career. Coming that close, however, was a bit of a shock.
"It was pretty disappointing but going into the meet I didn't have that high of expectations of qualifying, so I just wanted to go out there and do my best," Larson said. "Coming that close, I was really happy with my performance."
Friday served as a bit of a pick-me-up as she lurked behind the six-person field for the first two miles. She felt good enough make a push with a mile left to finish in 16:47.66 to ahead of Katy (Texas) Cinco Ranch rising junior Heidi Nielson, who will also head to Costa Rica.
Nielson said she plans to compete in the 1,500 on Sunday.
Kilrea was the first true freshman to cross the finish line at the NCAA Cross Country Championships this past fall. His time of 29:55.20 earned All-American honors.
Track season was more of a struggle adjusting to college competition. The two-time Illinois high school state champion in cross country and track finished four spots short of qualifying for the NCAAs.
"Coming off of track season I wasn't too happy with how I finished," Kilrea said. "So, I kind of just wanted to have fun racing again. I thought this would be a good opportunity to do that. The stakes weren't too high, but it was still a competitive meet. I just had a good time racing."
On Friday, Kilrea felt out the first 5,000 meters before he started to move. He set his own pace, finishing in 31:38.85 ahead of Georgia's Nicholas Yanek (31:59.89).
"I just didn't want to end on that bad note," Kilrea said. "Cross country was great but track season I had a tougher time adjusting to collegiate competition. ... It was tough to compete with the big guys. Hopefully, now next season, I'll be a little more mature and can handle it."