2A girls cross country: an inside look at a talented flock

The field at last year's Shazam XC Championship was spectacular. Look for several surprises as well as the usual suspects performing their great performances


Ava Parekh (Sr., Chicago Latin)
Parekh will be seeking her first-ever RACE win at Detweiller this year! Parekh has been on the short end of several classic races against the likes of Brooke Stromsland, Lianna Surtz, and Tatum David. The 2020 Shazam D2 champion has two 3200m individual titles and two 1600m runner-ups and went the distance to help carry the Romans to a state track team championship.

Parekh will be looking for her first cross country state title in an official capacity. She has been a mainstay over the course of the last few years in Illinois distance running, and this is her swan song to make a lasting impression and cement her legacy among Illinois' greats. Her 10:18 two-mile performance at Brooks PR at the beginning of July, a personal best, is a good indicator that she is ready to roll. Don't hand her the title yet, though. There are a handful of athletes that will make the title difficult to win, and even some of Parekh's recent close competitors make appearances here.

Mary Grace Hegberg (Sr., Arlington Heights St. Viator)
Hegberg is a second-year runner who made two large strides forward during the 2021 track season. After a dominant double at her sectional meet, Hegberg pushed Parekh to the limit in the 3200, running a personal best 10:34 in the 90+ degree heat in Charleston. Despite that effort, Hegberg doubled back to narrowly miss breaking 5-minutes in a third-place finish in the 1600m. With fresh legs and better conditions, Hegberg showed her true fitness with an eye-popping 10:16 3200 performance at the Illinois Meet of Champions, right on Parekh's heels, and then returned to Hope's track the next day to run 4:45 in the 1600m, a top-10 all-time mark in the state for that distance. 

This year is Hegberg's first test in cross country, but with the appearance of a true distance runner, and by far the best 3200m mark in the division, Hegberg is Parekh's best competitor despite the lack of experience.

Bella Domier -- SO -- Grayslake (Central)
The top returner from the 2020 Shazam meet is Domier, a furiously competitive sophomore who led Grayslake Central in every track distance from 3200 all the way to 200 meters. Domier's best state finish to date is a runner-up to Ali Ince in the 3A 800, a brave 2:12 effort sandwiched between a 2:14 relay split and a 5:00 1600 run in the fastest 1600 in state history. Domier is also the key harrier for Grayslake Central's trophy hopes, and she is the best runner in a deep and competitive northern Illinois region at the 2A level.

Elia Ton-That -- SR -- Chicago (Northside)
Ton-That, like Hegberg, made her major strides during the 2021 track season. Ton-That first asserted herself confidently into the spotlight by making a major move in the Palatine Distance Night 1600, nearly taking the lead before settling for a third-place finish in 4:56. This performance convinced Ton-That to focus on the 1600 at state, giving her a crack at a tired Parekh and Hegberg. Ton-That won in a narrow kick over Parekh, making her the only returning individual on this list to currently hold an individual title at any distance. Ton-That has a considerable experience advantage over some of the other contenders, but this will be the first cross country season that she will run at her fullest potential.

Bella Gonzalez -- JR -- Crystal Lake (South)
Gonzalez is the best in a field of deep juniors that have run at the front of the classification since their freshman year. Gonzalez's lone state appearance was a top-10 all-state spot and turned in a top-10 Shazam run in an impressive 18:54 as well. Despite not appearing at the state track meet in 3A, Gonzalez led the Gators in the 3200 (11:15) as well as the 1600m (5:13) and will be close on Domier's heels throughout the entire season in the northern reaches of the state.

Rachel Soukup -- JR -- Crystal Lake (Prairie Ridge)
The 2019 Prairie Ridge team, a surprise third place finisher at state, found a trophy in large part to a breakout from Soukup, a freshman at the time. One of two freshman all-staters that year, Soukup is now the unquestioned frontrunner for Prairie Ridge now that Rylee Lydon will be focusing on her field and track event training rather than cross country. Soukup's 4:58 mile at state would be good for an all-state spot almost any year, but it happened in the deep 3A field, so she had to settle for a 10th place finish. Soukup was one of only a few 2A athletes who broke 19-minutes at Shazam, and could be a dark horse candidate to make a run at the individual title in 2021.

Emma Skinner -- SR -- Morton
Skinner is the highest returner from the 2019 state meet aside from Parekh (6th in 17:37), and a top-15 finisher at Shazam in 2020. She is a few seasons removed from her strongest seasons, but her lengthy track record means she has earned a spot to be considered among the state favorites this year. Skinner will see strong competition from her own team from soph Arlie Akers, and from other teams in the area including Glenwood.