She qualified for the state cross country meet at Maxwell Park in Normal a few months later, taking home seventh. Her finish marked the best-ever effort from a fifth grader at the state meet, beating the previous mark by nine places.
“I just wanted to run the race,” Keller said. “I never expected to win or anything.”
Fair or not, expectations only increased from there. The following spring, Keller won the state title in the 1600 at the Eastside Centre in Peoria, crossing the finish line at 5:33.
As a sixth grader, Keller set the Class A record at the state cross country meet in 2010 with a time of 11:22, then repeated her 1600-meter track title in the spring at 5:22.
After capturing three more championships in seventh grade, including a track title in the 800, Keller saved her best efforts for her IESA farewell tour. With a time of 11:09 at the state cross country meet in 2012, Keller broke her own all-time record set a year earlier, regardless of division, by a full three seconds. Adding to the accomplishment was her perseverance to overcome wet, windy conditions and an initial misstep, thanks to a teammate.
“It was really wet and rainy,” Keller said. “I really wanted to get under 11 minutes, but I did 11:09 because it was all wet and I slipped at the beginning too. Kristen Slaughter—I almost like fell actually, there were all these people crowded around, she kind of blocked them off for me.”
A three-time cross country champion, Keller went about trying to pick up her fourth state title in the 1600 this past spring. She knew she had a solid chance to win, but that wouldn’t suffice. Keller had her eyes on Katelyn Bastert’s all-time record of 5:04.91, set in 2003 when Bastert ran for Carthage.
“The track records—they seem to be a lot harder to break for the mile,” Keller said.