2023 Northwest Herald Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year: McHenry’s Danielle Jensen

McHenry’s Danielle Jensen wins the Fox Valley Conference Girls Cross Country Meet at Plato Park in Elgin Saturday.

Only one girl in McHenry High School history finished higher in an IHSA Cross Country State Meet than Danielle Jensen.

The Warriors’ Erin Boland won Class AA state titles in 1988 and 1990, and also finished third in 1987 and ninth in 1989.

Jensen finished her high school career with a fifth-place finish in the Class 3A girls race at the state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park on Nov. 4. For her outstanding season, Jensen was the overwhelming choice as the Northwest Herald Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Jensen started the season by winning the McHenry County Meet and rarely lost until the postseason. She won the Fox Valley Conference title by almost 34 seconds and was second to Barrington’s Scout Storms [the eventual state champion] at the Grant Regional.

At the Hoffman Estates Sectional, Jensen finished sixth, but she ran the best race of her life to finish in 17:04.58 at state and take fifth place. It was the highest finish in the largest class by an area girls runner since Jacobs’ Lauren Van Vlierbergen was second in the 2014 Class 3A race.

Jensen, a Class 3A All-Stater as a junior, will run at NCAA Division I High Point (N.C.) next year. She answered some questions from sports writer Joe Stevenson about the most difficult part of races, Christmas movies and what she prefers to eat after a big race. Jensen even embraced the cold, rainy, muddy track for the FVC Meet, which was one reason she did so well.

What will you most remember about your senior season?

Jensen: I will most remember the conference meet because of the weather conditions. With all of the mud and sliding, it was the true cross country experience. You don’t get a race like that every year, so I was happy to have that for my senior year.

How did you find High Point and what did you like about the school?

Jensen: It was the first college I visited and, after that, nothing else compared. Then I reached out and was able to meet coach Remy Tamer and the team, and it felt like home.

What was the last really good book you read?

Jensen: I am really enjoyed “The Hunger Games” series.

If you could spend time training with any professional runner, who would it be?

Jensen: I would spend time training with Shalane Flanagan because she is really motivational, and I bond with her love of long distance.

What is the most difficult part of the 5K race, the first, second or last mile?

Jensen: I think the second mile is the most difficult because that is where mentally you have to push through when you are tired, and know you still have another mile to go.

McHenry’s Danielle Jensen (center) leads the girls race of the McHenry County Cross Country Meet in front of her teammate, Skyler Balzer, and Crystal Lake South’s Abby Machesky on Saturday, August 27, 2022, at Emricson Park in Woodstock.

What do you most like to eat after big races?

Jensen: I like to have a good steak dinner.

What are three of your favorite Christmas movies?

Jensen: “The Santa Clause,” “Home Alone” and “12 Dates of Christmas.”

Do you have any hidden talent?

Jensen: I’m a mini-golf pro.

If you were singing karaoke, what would be your go-to song?

Jensen: “Logical” by Olivia Rodrigo.

What is your favorite wild animal?

Jensen: Panther, because it is my future mascot (at High Point).

What goes through your mind in the last minute before you line up at the state meet?

Jensen: I always get focused and in the zone. I think about my team and how I want to push for them, and make McHenry proud.

Who is the most famous person you have taken a picture with?

Jensen: Former Blackhawks player Denis Savard, about five years ago at the Chicago Auto Show.

What would be your dream job?

Jensen: Either an actuary or a CFO of a large corporation.

What do you love most about running?

Jensen: I like the easy runs to have time to talk with teammates or get to just be in my own mind. Also, I like the workouts for how accomplished I feel after them.

What was something funny that happened to you during a race?

Jensen: In one of my races, my dog Cocoa was close to the course and when she saw me she tried to lunge at me.