All-Decade honoree: Michelle Mehnert

All-Decade honoree: Michelle Mehnert

URBANA – Michelle Mehnert isn't the first former high school athlete to admit, "I was bored in school."

Her approach to the situation, however, took her on a path followed by few other teenagers.

After swimming at Centennial as a freshman, Mehnert decided she needed new and different academic challenges. She applied for acceptance to Urbana Uni High and, when she was approved for enrollment, was required by the IHSA to sit out a year of competition for transferring from a public to a private school.

Her athletic journey continued as a junior, but not in the sport in which she competed at state as a freshman.

"When I was finally able to swim for Uni during my junior year, the renovation of IMPE meant that the team's practice space would be significantly cut," Mehnert said. "For that reason and yet another coaching change on my club swim team, I steered away from swimming and went back to cross-country."

In her two years of high school running, she had seventh- and third-place finishes at state, helping the Illineks to back-to-back top-10 team finishes.

Mehnert was the runaway choice, so to speak, as The News-Gazette Girls' Cross-Country Runner of the Decade.

She didn't give up swimming – her sport of choice now as a sophomore at the University of Illinois – and, in fact, viewed her revived running career as "cross training."

Mehnert had participated in cross-country in middle school and prior to that had been exposed to distance running.

"Both my parents are marathoners, so I spent a lot of time around the running community and always wanted to join in," she said.

Cross-country was her first step in the venture, and it was a successful one.

"I had a ton of fun," Mehnert said. "I think Doug Mynatt (Uni High coach) knew what I was capable of, but he never really pushed me. He just let me push myself.

"Having such a great team around me gave me the confidence to take the risks that were necessary, and things fell into place."

The challenge of being competitive as a runner was never one she considered insurmountable.

"I am a goal-oriented, driven person, so competing in sports came naturally," she said. "I love to set goals and push myself to achieve them.

"Athletics have taught me so much about myself and the self-discipline it takes to succeed."

Mehnert was a two-time regional champion and a two-time sectional runner-up for Uni's cross-country team.

As a civil engineering major at Illinois, Mehnert remains on the go. In addition to swimming, she has added another pursuit.

"I compete in triathlons both on my own and with the Fighting Illini triathlon team," she said. "I'm working on building my triathlon resume so I will be able to join the elite ranks after my collegiate swimming career is over."

Her All-Decade recognition in cross-country is something Mehnert finds somewhat ironic.

"I've never considered cross-country to be my No. 1 sport," she said. "I enjoy running, but I'm a swimmer at heart. Going into my freshman year of high school, I thought I was going to be swimming for Centennial all four years and never run cross-country again."

Thankfully, her quest to expand her academic horizons opened up new avenues for her athletic career.

Area girls' cross-country All-Decade Team


Chelsea Blaase St. Joseph-Ogden 2012 All-stater (23rd) helped Spartans to back-to-back top-10 team finishes at state.

Brandy Buss Centennial 2004 Three-time state qualifier was a top-three runner at regionals all four years.

Amy Clawson Mahomet-Seymour 2009 All-stater (sixth) was a three-time state qualifier.

Cara Feeney St. Thomas More 2008 All-stater (12th) was a four-time state qualifier.

Hannah Hogan St. Joseph-Ogden 2008 Two-time all-stater was a four-time state qualifier.

Chris Holl Clinton 2002 Two-time all-stater was a three-time state qualifier.

Bridget McLeese Monticello 2003 Three-time state qualifier was the regional champion as a sophomore.

Michelle Mehnert Urbana Uni High 2008 Two-time all-stater was two-time regional champ and two-time sectional runner-up.

Erika Ramos Hoopeston Area 2009 Two-time all-stater was a three-time state qualifier.

Maureen Scott Mahomet-Seymour 2002 All-stater (seventh) was a two-time state qualifier.

NEAR MISS: Sidney Long, St. Joseph-Ogden, 2011.