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Girls Cross Country: Lemont’s Claire Gagen leads by example

Claire Gagen Lemont | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media

Claire Gagen, of Lemont | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2013 6:48AM



A five-year streak of qualifying for the state cross country meet ended last season for Lemont, but it didn’t stop a freshman from re-energizing the Indians.

Claire Gagen started a solid foundation for the future by qualifying as an individual to the Class 2A meet and finishing 54th.

With a strong sophomore group that includes South Suburban Blue champion Taylor Campos and runner-up Gagen, Lemont now appears headed for another run of team success.

“I think we’ve got a really strong group of leaders,’’ Gagen said. “We have a lot of people up front.’’

Sophomores Gabby Voltarel (third) and Lindsey Mazur (fourth) and senior Kelly Fritz (fifth) completed Lemont’s perfect score at the seven-team conference meet.

Lemont coach Tim Plotke didn’t expect a “rah-rah’’ speech from Gagen to get the Indians going for the final crucial weeks of the season.

“She’s kind of a quiet leader,’’ Plotke said. “She doesn’t really say much.’’

That especially was true earlier in the season when a hip muscle injury sidelined Gagen for a couple of weeks. She missed the Sept. 28 Tinley Park Invitational at Midlothian Meadows, where Lemont was edged by Illiana Christian for the small-school title.

Unable to run with her teammates, Gagen used the time to prepare mentally for the remainder of the schedule.

“At first I was disappointed because I’m an important part of the team and I felt I was out of it,’’ Gagen said. “But it gives you time to think and refocus. Now I feel like I’m back and ready to do well.’’

In her first meet back in the lineup, Gagen finished third (19:18.8) at the Oct. 12 Rich Central Invitational to lead Lemont to second place behind Class 3A school Marist.

Her personal best is the 18:26 she ran at the state meet last year, quite a drop from her initial freshman goal to break 19:00.

“I’m really happy where I am,’’ Gagen said. “I can see myself breaking that pr (personal record) downstate.’’

“There’s high expectations,’’ Plotke said. “She puts high expectations on herself and she expects to do well.

“She’s real focused. She wants to succeed. She wants Lemont High School girls to succeed. She pushes herself real hard.’’

Gagen didn’t hesitate to answer when asked to describe herself as a runner.

“Competitive, focused, very determined,’’ she said. “I think determination is the biggest thing because you know you’re not always going to be up front, especially in the bigger races.

“As long as you can keep pushing yourself, you’re always going to be happy after you race.’’

Gagen and her teammates hope to finish the season with that feeling.



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