Josephine Welin’s experience at the 2019 Class 3A state meet left her wanting more.
She finished 16th in 17 minutes, 9.13 seconds — a personal best at the time.
“Last year at state definitely felt like a breakthrough race for me, because I didn’t expect to be running at the front of that meet,” Welin said. “I thought I would be in the back since state is so competitive. It was really crazy.”
But after training in Chicago-area forest preserves during the coronavirus pandemic, the Oak Park-River Forest junior reached new heights this season.
Welin placed first in all but one race, capping a stunning season by winning the Whitney Young Regional on Oct. 24, the Whitney Young Sectional on Oct. 31 and the Division III race at the ShaZam Racing High School XC Championships on Nov. 8. Her sectional time of 16:33.4 was the fastest in the state.
With no official state meet due to the pandemic, ShaZam featured many of the top runners in Illinois. Welin won the 5-kilometer race in 17:25.64 at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe. Batavia’s Katrina Schlenker was second in 18:00.05.
“I’m definitely really proud of my effort at the ShaZam meet,” Welin said. “The course was pretty difficult, and I could’ve run a faster time on a different course. Overall, I’m happy with the effort I put on that course. I definitely exceeded my expectations. I didn’t expect to win by as much as I did.
“The past few weeks I knew I was going to start targeting more competition. I knew there was more pressure than earlier in the season in the dual meets. I was more motivated to run a faster time.”
Oak Park-River Forest’s Ashley Raymond said Welin was motivated to be an elite runner after her all-state performance last season.
“After state, she started running some big miles over the winter,” Raymond said. “Josephine came into track season in pretty good shape. Then quarantine happened. Instead of letting that slow her down, it went the opposite way. She trained harder.
“She had a different edge about her. You could tell she would be one of the best in the state in terms of distance runners.”
York girls prevail: Two-time defending 3A state champion Naperville North entered ShaZam’s Division III girls race as the prohibitive favorite. But York had other plans.
York won, with sophomore Brooke Berger placing fifth in 18:12.28 and freshman Michaela Quinn placing sixth in 18:17.11.
Lyons senior Kate Dickman was eighth in 18:27.02, and Lake Zurich sophomore Brooke Johnston was ninth in 18:28.77.
Oak Park-River Forest finished fourth, Loyola took seventh, Lake Zurich was ninth and Lyons was 12th.
York boys take third: Meanwhile, in ShaZam’s Division III boys race, York finished third. Senior Mickey Vreeland led the Dukes and placed 12th in 15:58.76. Junior Nick Falk, who was fourth in 15:46.96, led fourth-place New Trier, which was followed by Barrington, Lyons and Lake Zurich.
Loyola junior Spencer Werner was seventh in 15:55.98.
Lake Zurich senior Jake Myers, an Illinois recruit, just missed a top-10 showing. He was 11th in 15:58.52.
In the Division II boys race, St. Viator junior Michael Schumacher was third in 16:09.64. Hinsdale South senior Julian Watson was seventh in 16:18.01.
Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.