Olympia cross country for print

Olympia High School's Shelby Siltman (2147) competes in a Class 2A 1,600-meter run preliminary in the Girls State Track Meet in May at Charleston. Siltman runs in her third state cross country meet Saturday at Peoria after finishing fifth a year ago.

STANFORD — Olympia High school senior Shelby Siltman doesn’t mind being the eldest of nine sports-loving siblings.

“I actually really enjoy it because I can set a good example for them,” said Siltman, who will make her third appearance in the state cross country meet at 9 a.m. Saturday at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

Siltman also has enjoyed setting a good example for her teammates. Her goal Saturday is to finish in the top three and lower her school record 3-mile time of 17 minutes, 46 seconds set while placing fifth last year.

Record setting has become a habit for Siltman, who also holds school track records of 5:08.56 in the 1,600-meter run and 11:21.32 in the 3,200.

“I feel real good about the way her season has gone,” said Coach Mike Neisler. “She’s been real consistent. I think she is in as good of shape as I’ve ever seen her, so I think we’re ready to go.”

Neisler said there’s no question of where the 5-foot-3 Siltman ranks in school history.

“She is by far the best distance runner we’ve ever had at Olympia High School, bar none,” he said. “To have all those (school records) as a junior was a goal so we could get to this season and let it rip and not worry about any records.”

Neisler rates Siltman’s competitive spirit as her biggest asset.

“She’s got good talent,” he added. “The first time I saw her run as a sixth grader, I said, ‘That little girl can run.’”

Strength is another asset for Siltman, who built an early lead while defending her title in Saturday’s Elmwood Class 1A Sectional.

“She just buried them in the first mile and a half and they quit chasing her,” Neisler said. “She just hammers away.”

Neisler rates Siltman a prime college prospect because her success has come despite a low-mileage training program. She has never done a run longer than 7 miles or trained more than 38 miles in a week, shockingly low amounts considering her running resume.

“She’s got a lot left in her,” said Neisler, whose star has visited Illinois State, Bradley and Eastern Illinois. She hopes to study dietetics and nutrition in college.

Whichever college lands Siltman, they will be getting “a real sweet kid,” according to Neisler. “You never hear her talking about herself. She’s humble.

“When it comes to running, she just does what I tell her to do. She doesn’t really question it.”

Siltman has had a positive influence on her teammates.

“She’s encouraging,” Neisler said. “I think they see the fact that she’s been real successful. There’s no reason they can’t achieve some of that along with her.”

Siltman’s team, which placed 15th in 1A a year ago, carries a No. 8 ranking into Saturday’s race where she hopes to average 5:50 per mile.

“We’re really focusing on her competing in that first mile where she needs to be to stay competitive the entire race,” Neisler said.

Siltman calls Detweiler Park her favorite course because it’s relatively flat and fast. She rates three-time defending champion Anna Sophia Keller of Effingham St. Anthony as a favorite along with Daly Galloway of Gardner-Dwight.

“For team goals,” Siltman said, “we would like to be in the top 10 for sure, and have as many of us PR as we can.”

While Siltman has tried to mentor her teammates, they’ve helped her, too.

“They like to have fun,” she said. “They’ve helped me see the fun side.”

While Siltman competes in 1A in cross country, during track season she’s in 2A.

“She’s got tons of competition just to qualify for state in track,” Neisler said. “I think that’s been huge in helping her be successful.”

Among the things Siltman loves most about running is improvement.

“I like to see my progress,” she said. “I like to see how my training is impacting me.”

Her siblings and teammates would do well to follow her example in that regard.

​Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @pg_sharer

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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