Woodstock's Kayla Beattie is the Northwest Herald Girls Athlete of the Year. Beattie set records in the IHSA Class 2A 3,200 and 1,600-meter races. Academically, Beattie was her senior class' valedictorian with a grade-point average of 4.844 and will attend the University of Iowa in the fall. (Lauren M. Anderson - landerson@nwherald.com)

Beattie dominated running this year like no other By JOE STEVENSON - jstevenson@nwherald.com

Even in the most dominant girls distance running year anyone in Illinois ever produced, Kayla Beattie had moments when her confidence was slightly shaken.

It was in December, just after the Woodstock senior placed 12th in the Nike Cross Country National Meet and the Foot Locker Cross Country National Meet. Perhaps it was a natural reaction after running by herself for the entire high school season, then finally having someone else to race.

“Confidence is a huge thing,” Beattie said. “I thought those girls were so much better than me. I wasn’t as confident in myself. I wanted to be one of the best in the country in the spring [for track and field].”

Beattie used that feeling to her advantage. It was motivation for the demanding workouts Woodstock assistant cross country coach and head boys track coach Matt McCulley designed for her.

Beattie then had an incredible track season, showing without a doubt, she was one of the nation’s top runners.

She became the fifth girls high school runner ever to break 10 minutes in the 3,200-meter run and she did not have any close races all season.

Each meet was a race between Beattie and the record books, with the record books usually taking a pounding. Beattie finished with the distance triple crown – state cross country, 1,600 and 3,200 in Class 2A – all in times that were the fastest in state history, regardless of class.

For her dominance and historical year, Beattie is the Northwest Herald Female Athlete of the Year, voted on by the sports staff with nominations from area athletic directors. Woodstock High School will receive a donation of $2,500 from the Rochell Foundation in Beattie’s honor. Dr. Steven Rochell, a Crystal Lake orthopedic surgeon, has given that amount to the athletic departments of the respective female and male winners since 1993.

Winners are chosen for their overall athletic excellence, as well as being good students and citizens. Beattie, who will run at Iowa, was the valedictorian of her class, finishing high school with a 4.844 GPA.

“I don’t know what it is about her that sets her apart, but there’s certainly something,” Woodstock girls track coach Steve Erwin said. “She probably studies the sport like nobody else I’ve had. She’s really dedicated herself. Kayla trains and she studies, that’s what’s important to her.”

Beattie, the defending Class 2A champion at the IHSA Girls Cross Country State Meet, had a rough start to her season when she contracted Lyme’s disease from a tick bite in late July. She was lethargic and could not figure out what was wrong until blood tests were performed. Her doctor diagnosed it early enough that she missed only a couple of meets. In the big picture, it was a blip on the radar.

Beattie set the IHSA Girls Cross Country State Meet and Detweiller Park course record at 16:22 in November. She beat the course record by nine seconds and the meet record (for any class) by 15.

It was shortly after Beattie ran in the national cross country meets that McCulley sprang his goal for track on her – to break 10 minutes in the 3,200. Neither realized at the time only three high school girls had ever done that, but Beattie completed that mission at the IHSA Girls Track and Field State Meet when she thrilled the crowd at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium with a time of 9:56.96.

Beattie’s feat was accomplished a few days after Cornwall Central’s (N.Y.) Aisling Cuffe broke 10 minutes, making them the fourth and fifth high school girls to pull off the astonishing time.

“I had been visualizing [10 minutes] since December,” Beattie said. “I got stronger and stronger and believed it more. I went to the line that day telling myself it was going to happen. I didn’t think about it not happening.”

Beattie usually trained with the boys team or with McCulley, which she felt maximized her workouts. McCulley still runs competitively for Dick Pond Racing, so he was able to push Beattie.

“I was able to run with her on a number of occasions and pace her through some workouts,” McCulley said. “It was easier to analyze how she was doing and where she was at.”

With several other distance runners in winter sports, McCulley was able to work with Beattie exclusively through the winter. Her confidence was booming when she ran a 10:15 at the Illinois Prep Top Times Indoor Classic on March 27, serving notice of what might be coming at the state meet.

“She’s always been quiet about her goals,” McCulley said. “The big thing is that she trusted in me. I laid out the goal for her, I had no idea how big the goal was.”

Once state track was over, Beattie could exhale and enjoy her momentous accomplishments. Besides setting the 3,200 record, she also ran the 1,600 in 4:43.56, the fastest in state history. She left no question as to who the best girls distance runner ever has been in Illinois.

“It’s been a really fun year,” she said. “I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed my training and I learned a lot. It’s been a fun process.”