Cross Country: RTHS alum Bakken leads St. Francis to NAIA National Championship

Former Rochelle Township High School runner Katherine Bakken (middle left) was one of four athletes on the St. Francis women's cross country team to earn All-American honors at the 2020 NAIA National Championship meet. (Courtesy photo)

Former Lady Hub earns All-American honors at meet

Former Lady Hub distance running standout Katherine Bakken was enjoying a fast start to her sophomore cross country season at the University of St. Francis. Some fortunate timing allowed Bakken to finish strong, with the Rochelle Township High School alum stepping up and delivering a big-time performance for the Saints at the 2020 NAIA National Championships.

Bakken began the 2020 season during the fall, competing in two meets before an injury sidelined her and nearly derailed the remainder of her sophomore campaign. But rising COVID-19 cases late last year forced the NAIA to postpone its national championship meet to the spring, allowing Bakken enough time to heal up and restart her sophomore season in March. 

Stronger and more inspired to compete, Bakken was more than prepared to compete in the NAIA National Championship at the Seminole Cross Country Course in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she finished 15th out of 326 runners with a time of 18 minutes and 14 seconds. Bakken’s efforts not only resulted in St. Francis winning the first women’s cross country title in program history, but she was one of four Saints to earn NAIA All-American honors at the event.

“I’m so excited about being an All-American,” Bakken said. “It’s a testament to the hard work I’ve put in since joining the program. I loved helping our team win the national championship because each runner is so dedicated and hard-working. I thought we were all pretty confident in our ability to win and we knew what needed to be done. The course was muddy, but pretty flat and fast. We were prepared to run in the mud after training through tough conditions during the winter… I was really lucky that the meet was moved to April because of the pandemic so that I had enough time to recover and help lead my team at nationals.”

The All-American performance was a significant improvement for Bakken, who placed 119th with a time of 19:35.2 during the 2019 NAIA National Championship as a freshman. Bakken’s sophomore season began at the Tiger Cross Country Invitational in September 2020, where she took second place overall before finishing sixth at the Bethel Invitational in October 2020.

“I think I’ve gained a lot of physical strength from last season and I’ve gained a new passion for competing,” Bakken said. “My experience at the University of St. Francis has been truly great. I really enjoy the sense of community here and my coaches have also contributed to my enjoyment because they’re so knowledgeable and they truly believe in me.”

A two-sport student-athlete at the University of St. Francis, Bakken recently started her sophomore season with the Saint women’s track and field program. Although Bakken missed the majority of her freshman track campaign because to the COVID-19 pandemic, her sophomore season is off to a solid start. Bakken finished sixth in the 3000-meter run at the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Indoor Championships with a PR of 10:33.44. Her first outdoor meet was the ONU Spring Opener, where she took fifth in the 5000-meter run.

“My goal for the track and field season is to qualify for the national championships in either the 5K or the 10K,” Bakken said. “We want to qualify as many runners as we can and it will take the same mental and physical strength we had at the cross country national championships.”



Video News