IHSA Girls State preview: Top 10 storylines at the 3A meet

10. The two-day meet's effect on the trophy race

In the 3A meet in particular, some of the major trophy contenders are dependent on sprint stars with heavy event loads, and between the preliminary and final event schedules, the squads with the most endurance, or even depth, may be the ones to rise out on top. This applies most to teams like Huntley, Homewood-Flossmoor, Kenwood, Normal Community and Whitney Young. The most diversified teams will stand to survive the best.

Distance heavy teams like Prospect will need to manage their load in their own way, as well. Grayslake Central, Naperville North and Barrington are in that boat. As of Wednesday, we are anticipating hot, windy conditions on Friday, and slightly cooler but still warm, potentially rainy conditions on Saturday. The forecasts have been all over the place. Any record chasers may have to be strategic about which day makes sense for them to go all out. But much is uncertain.

Josie Welin may be all alone in Section 1 of the 3200, but she is used to that kind of company.

9. Josephine Welin's Section 1 Fade-Out Performance

Defending 3200m champion and 1600m runner-up Josephine Welin (Sr., Oak Park (O.P.-River Forest)) had a turbulent year between state track appearances. The highs included a cross country state title, and the low have included two separate stress fractures. But she is present rather than absent at this year's meet, and the state is better for it. Her measured qualifiers out of the slow sectional heats placed her in Section 1 of 2 in the 3200, and she will be around in the 1600. Welin has not been her strongest, but she is a great competitor, and could produce something special out of the first 3200 section. In her final performance as an Oak Park Husky (before coming a Washington Husky), can Welin do the unthinkable and be the champion from that section?


Rylee Lydon was all smiles as she took home the 400m title in 2021. 

8. Multi-events stars who can accumulate massive point totals

Rylee Lydon (Jr., Crystal Lake (Prairie Ridge))won the 400 meters last year on the heels of a runner-up high jump finish. With the addition of the Long Jump to her plate this year, as well as retaining the 200m, Lydon has the platform to show her power as a mainstay multi-events star, who really focused on diversifying this year. Despite the attention being soaked in the 400 by Allison Ince (So., Normal (Community)), and in the Long Jump by the Johnsons, Lydon has been consistent all year and is poised for another great state meet in her junior season.

Mia Morello (Sr., Grayslake (Central)) has a similarly diverse event load. The Pole Vault state leader is also in the running for all-state performances in both hurdles events. Grayslake Central is more on the outside looking in for trophy contention this year than last year, but they can still make noise, especially if Morello does some amazing things in the hurdles, and takes care of business in the Pole Vault.


7. The 400m as the central hang-out for the whole state

The matchup of distance star Ali Ince and sprint phenom Katelyn Lehnen (Fr., Chatham (Glenwood)) in the 400 is just a microcosm of the party that the 400m brings this year. With so many distance runners stepping down a distance, the 400m looks to bring the integration of distance/sprints that typically doesn't occur until the 4x400. Alexandria Edison (Sr., Flossmoor (Homewood-F.)), Ashley Oliver (Sr., Hoffman Estates (H.S.)), Lehnen, Zawadi Brown (So., Naperville (Neuqua Valley)) , Madison Hardamon (Sr., Evanston (Twp.)) and Angela Alozie (Jr., Flossmoor (Homewood-F.)) represent some of sprints best, while distance girls like Ince, Bella Domier (So., Grayslake (Central)) , and Jordyn Miller (Sr., Mundelein (H.S.)) take them on in each heat (don't forget about former cross country all-stater Rylee Lydon too). The field thinned out a little bit due to some surprise non-qualifiers in the 400, but this still has the makings of the marquee event in 3A.


Alex Johnson is the prohibitive favorite to defend her title in the Long Jump.

6. Johnson Sisters' Horizontal Dominance out of Huntley

Alex Johnson (Jr.) and Dominique Johnson (Fr.) have been the premier long and triple jumps performers in the entire state as a whole this year. Huntley just needs a solid performance from both to maintain their stronghold on a trophy position, but the Red Raiders can get a full 36 points from 1-2 performances in both jumps. Although an upset in either jump is very possible, especially with the heavy event load for both sisters, it will likely take a massive best for someone in the field to accomplish. There is a good chance that Huntley takes home a team state title, and if they do, the Johnsons' performance on the runways will be the primary reason.


5. Evanston's 4x400 Retribution

We have all seen it a hundred times-the victory that Normal Community snatched from Evanston in the 4x400 at the last second in 2021. This moment has played in the Wildkits' memories for a whole year, and Evanston's strategy to respond has been the only correct one: leave absolutely no doubt. Their 3:49 state leading time, by a wide margin no least, run solo at Deerfield's sectional proves they are on a mission... and this performance was done without the help of best 400 runner Madison Hardamon. How much ground can Evanston gain on the all-time record of 3:45 low?


This Erickson-Ginsberg handoff represents just half of the powerful legs on the Prospect distance relay. 

4. Prospect: 4x800 relay of destiny?

All four of Prospect's relay legs return from their state title team last year. With the Ginsberg (Audrey Ginsberg (Sr.) and Lily Ginsberg (So.)) sisters opting for the open 800 as opposed to the 1600, and Cameron Kalaway (Jr.) and Hailey Erickson (Jr.) on pure relay duty, the Knights look poised to throw all their eggs in the 3200 relay basket. The all-time state record of 8:59 set in 2012 by Wheaton-Warrenville South has looked untouchable for several years, but Prospect will have one of the best shots at this record in years.

We may not see the team at full power until Saturday, and they will need to hold off cross country champion York to secure the team title. York has the second-best seed entering but you get the feeling that they haven't shown their full powers yet either.


Sydney Robinson's 2021 200m title was redemption after Mariam Azeez took the win in the 100m. What roles will they play in 2022?

3. Matchup of sprint powerhouses in relays, and for team trophies

Whitney Young and Kenwood continue their three-consecutive-week match in each of the sprint relays and open races. Whitney has edged Kenwood in the 4x100 twice, and Kenwood took round one of the 4x200 with Whitney coming out on top the following week. All of these relays have produced state-leading times.

But Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way East, Huntley, and Evanston will all have something to say about breaking up that Chicago Public monopoly, are there are massive implications for the trophy battle as each of those teams is in the mix. Include the 4x400 in this bunch, and each of these relays will have recurring characters battle it out. In particular, Kenwood may be able to produce an even stronger team in the relays than they fielded at sections, and will be chasing the all-time leaderboard in the 4x200. Evanston will do the same in the 4x400.


Will Katelyn Lehnen be all smiles after the meet concludes on Saturday?

2. Katelyn Lehnen v. Chicagoland's Best

The freshman sensation from Chatham, IL Katelyn Lehnen put the state on notice with her 60m indoor state title in 3A, followed by a 5th place finish in the 200m. She has improved steadily, lowering her bests to 11.89 and 24.62, and held Illinois leads briefly for both events. Lehnen ran a busy schedule outdoors, but remained undefeated until taking second to Ali Ince in the 400m at the Danville sectional.

Lehnen doesn't seem like a typical sprints state favorite, especially since she is far from the geographic epicenter of sprints in Illinois in 2022. At Top Times, she took down incumbent powers like Rachel Robinson (Sr., Chicago (Whitney Young)), Lindsey Miller (Sr., Chicago (Simeon), Alex Edison and Alex Johnson. Her outdoor times have surpassed those of Mariam Azeez (Sr., Frankfort (Lincoln-Way East)), Sydney Robinson (Sr., Chicago (Whitney Young)), Ana Liese Torian (Jr., Flossmoor (Homewood-F.)), Zawadi Brown, Daria Tersina (Sr., Mt. Prospect (Prospect)), and Sydney Weaver (Sr., Chicago (Kenwood)). But now how will she fare with the target on her pack? Many of the others have narrowed the gap, in particular Rachel Robinson who has been as strong as anyone else, so Lehnen certainly will have her hands full. But, there is a good chance that Lehnen will be walking away with a title or two, jumpstarting what may be a great career for her as a sprint queen in Illinois.


If there is an athlete who can follow-up the all-time state meet 1600m record, it would be Ince.

1. Can Ali Ince pull off the unthinkable.... Again?

Ali Ince will be the most visible, and most watched, athlete in the meet the entire weekend. Her 1600m state meet record (and near 800m record) made her the talk of the distance community, and her 4x400 anchor last year seared that memory in the minds of the collective sprint community. With Ince adding the 400m to her slate in 2022, she has continued to keep the state guessing. Can she pull off this unprecedented triple, winning three solo events all in the latter half of the schedule?

To complete this, Ince may have to sacrifice another shot at the state 800 record to conserve energy. Ince missed Courtney Clayton's state meet record of 2:07.05 from 2013 by just a hundredth last year, but Ince shouldn't have to sweat a rectifying of this blemish, given that she is already the all-time Illinois leader (2:03.98). Winning a 400 final (which is no given) will give Ince tired legs for the 1600m final in a way she did not have to contend with after an elongated delay in 2021. She will need to fend off a fresh Audrey Allman (Sr, Glen Ellyn (Glenbard West)), as well as 3200 athletes like Scout Storms (Fr, Barrington), Brooke Johnston (Jr., Lake Zurich), Katrina Schlenker (Sr., Batavia) and Grace Schager (Jr., Carol Stream (Glenbard North)) who will be recovering while Ince runs the 800 and 400.

Finally, Ince leads the Normal Community Ironmen 4x400 with no expectations. Evanston is the Goliath in the event this year. But... that's how the relay looked last year too. Ince brought her squad back from the dead to win. Surely, there's no way that she can do it again this year. But, if she does... how will this performance go down in history?