URBANA – She is the Twin City's top multisport athlete, and nowadays Urbana University High's Michelle Mehnert is using that variety to her advantage on the cross-country course.
An accomplished runner and swimmer, Mehnert captured her second straight Twin City cross-country title at Illini Meadows on Tuesday. Part of the reason she blew away the field – her teammate and runner-up Elaine Gu was 43 seconds back – was her cross training in the summer.
Mehnert is a top-notch triathlete, winning two of the four she entered this year, including the Champaign County Park District Mini Triathlon.
"I just feel a lot stronger starting the season than I did last season," Mehnert said after covering the course in 20 minutes, 28 seconds to lead Uni to the team title.
"I've swam for a really long time. Biking is something that's completely new to me. It's just been this summer that I've gone out and started going on long rides out in the country. It's so dynamic. You keep changing. Every time you get bored of doing one thing, you switch to another – find a new muscle group to punish."
Mehnert, Gu (21:11) and Elizabeth Russell (21:16) completed a Uni sweep of the top three places. The Illineks compiled 39 points to top Urbana (45), which was led by Marissa Marrone's fifth-place finish in 21:53.
Mehnert estimated she trained 150 miles apiece this summer in swimming, biking and running. The move away from running – some athletes rack up 400 or more miles each summer – could benefit her down the road.
"It's a lot of cross-training for both swimming and running," said Mehnert, seventh at the 2006 Class A state meet. "But it keeps me from getting injured, which I think is a big issue because there are a lot of girls who go out and run 300 or 400 miles. I try to keep my legs fresher."
Centennial's Eric Simpson captured the boys' race in 16:44, topping Champaign Central's Patrick Mazzocco by 16 seconds. Mazzocco's Maroons, however, took the team championship by one point over Simpson's Chargers.
It was Central's second straight Twin City title.
"I told the guys, just like we ambushed them last year, they can ambush us if we go in thinking we've got them beat," Central coach Argie Johnson said, referring to Centennial. "I told them, one mistake and we could get beat. We didn't make that mistake."
Central's Peter Hackley (18:20) was seventh and teammate Russell Wetzel (18:50) placed ninth.
"Some of our seniors were hurting today. I think the heat got to them and they didn't run as good as they did Saturday," Johnson said, "but that's a fast turnaround. We're happy to have back-to-back championships."
Centennial got a fourth from Ryan Root and a sixth from Mike Brown.
"We did as well as we could," Simpson said. "We lost two important seniors from last year and a lot of guys have actually showed up the whole summer and put in the miles. I'm happy with our performance overall."