Class 2A Girls Most Improved Runner: Olivia Syftestad

Olivia and Marianne battle once more... the finishing touches laid at the Shazam Championships


The successful journey for Chicago Latin High School senior Olivia Syftestad has been a long one. The four-year performer like many girls at a young age endured iron deficiency issues. Head Coach Dan Daly indicated that Syftestad battled low levels of iron during her freshman and sophomore seasons. "Since that low point, [Olivia] has continuously worked hard to better herself and her team," said Daly. "When the 2020 track season was canceled she refocused her goals on the fall cross country season."

Syftestad's junior year was about getting better and establishing herself as a viable distance runner and solid contributor to her team. The residuals included a 11th place at regionals- 20:11 and 18th at sectionals- 20:27. She would close out the year placing 72nd in the state championship- 18:53 (PB at the time).

2020 presented new challenges for all athletes when Covid-19 knocked out the track & field season. Coach Michelle Parekh provides a strong analysis of Syftestad's growth: "While Covid depressed many athletes, Olivia remained happy, grateful, and positive every single day and always asked for more time with teammates, more intervals, and more minutes on the tempo runs. She has been a role model for our entire program regarding how you can constantly improve and how much improvement can happen year-over-year with hard work." 

Syftestad improved big time dropping her personal best three-mile time to 17:44 and fluctuated in the 2/3 spot with teammate Marianne Mihas. Moreover, in the process, Syftestad never placed lower than fourth place in any race. Prior to the unofficial state meet, she finished third in the St. Ignatius Regional and Latin Sectionals.

The Shazam Championships would be the defining moment for Syftestad. Without having to hold the pressure of a championship on her back, she was able to go out and race freely. As it has been customary all season, Syftestad and Mihas separated themselves immediately from the pack. This race happens to be the penultimate flight #3 and on the rough and tough Three Sisters Park course, this dominant pair hit the first mile in 5:56 and nearly ten seconds ahead of the chase pack.

It was a continued lock and step affair through the second mile in which Syftestad has acknowledged, "I'm so lucky to have [Marianne], she gets me through all of my races." Racing together like talented identical twins to the very end... but something has to give and someone has to finish second. Syftestad would not be intimidated by Mihas' tremendous half-mile pedigree, especially in the closing stages of a grueling 5k. Syftestad saved her best for last and pushed just meters from the finish line to win the flight in the biggest race of her life- 18:39. The tough girl act worked as only teammate Ava Parekh (#1 in the state) and Brooke Stromsland of Lakes could overtake her in the final composite times.