The upcoming Batavia Distance Madness on March 10th will reveal some of the most significant indoor contenders for the 1600. (photo by Laura Duffy)
TOP RETURNING PERFORMERS
With hardly any time to blink at the start of the season, there is already a question that is looming over this event in Illinois: when will Ali Ince and Tatum David face off in the mile?
A conflict with Normal Community's basketball schedule prevented this matchup from materializing at the Misfits Invite. David still had an elite field to chase her, but no one was ever particularly close to challenging her as she flew to a 4:50.14 Full Mile win (a high 4:48.xx equivalent performance for 1600). Given how early this time was in the season, it was evident that David was already ahead of where she had ever been this early in the track season.
This point was further proved when David traveled to Boston for the NB Indoor Grand Prix. Facing off against Ventura CA super star sophomore Sadie Engelhardt and Massachusetts' Ellie Shea, David blazed a stunning 4:40.89 for the Full Mile to finish runner-up. This resets her all-time personal best in the Mile (4:42 from Festival of Miles) and redefines what David is capable of doing this season.
Ince responded to David's Misfits performances the following day at the University of Michigan, running 4:52.76 with even less competition than David had. This is a touch behind the 4:48.34 1600 that she ran on February 6th at the SPIRE Scholastic Showcase in Geneva, OH. With any semblance of early race challengers, Ince will certainly be fit to blow past the 4:52 she opened with. Naturally, our imaginations race when we picture a David vs. Ince race over this distance. David's hammer-hard-from-the-gun style, much like Josie Welin, gives Ince's massive kick style a challenging rabbit to follow. Real magic can be made if/when this match happens.
A storyline to follow for Ince will be what event load she focuses on throughout the season. In 2022, Ince entered a heavy schedule at state, adding the 400. Ince was rewarded with a 400 state title, but it cost her qualification to the final in the 1600, an event in which she holds the state meet record. How will she handle her event load this season?
Brooke Johnston leaned heavily here in 2022 and may do the same this year, in what is possibly her best event. Johnston missed the 5:00 mark by .01 at the Girls' D117 Madness meet in March 2022 for her indoor best. She brought it in outdoors, finishing 4th at the state meet and then dropping a 4:50.44 full mile at Magis Miles. Johnston opens her season soon and will test her health at shorter distances first before coming up to the mile and the two-mile. She ran the 1600 at Top Times in 2022, finishing 2nd in 3A.
Hinsdale Central senior Catie McCabe has one of the fastest all-time 1600 bests, a 4:52.23 fourth-place finish in the fastest in Illinois history (2021 3A outdoor state). McCabe topped out at 5:04 during the 2022 indoor season, but with a 5:01 Full Mile (and a 2:14 800) already in January, McCabe is in perhaps the best form she's ever shown during an indoor season.
This event may be a little short for Glenbard North senior Grace Schager to truly leverage her incredible aerobic strength, but she showed she could still stick it to nearly anyone indoors with her runner-up placing at Misfits to David. Schager has run 4:53.47 for 1600. As she prepares for Notre Dame and collegiate racing, Schager may find utility in honing some of that speed necessary to challenge the best collegians.
A healthy Scout Storms (So., Barrington) is a force to be reckoned with in any of the distance races. At the peak of her freshman year breakout, Storms dropped a 4:50 1600 at Distance Night in Palatine, which was runner-up to Ince. Storms looked to be a favorite before injury took her out prior to the finals. She's been quietly consistent to start the season already, running 5:03 at Akinosun and then a 5:02 Full Mile at Misfits.
Brooke Berger (Sr., Elmhurst (York)) Don't overlook one of the most consistent middle distance runners over the last three years; Berger ran 4:54 for 1600 at Magis Miles. She figures into the York 4x800 picture but has committed throughout her career to the mile. She has already opened with a 5:11 full Mile at Misfits, in her final season before heading to Lexington, KY to compete for the Wildcats.
What will Caroline Schoen (Sr., Flossmoor (H.-Flossmoor)) produce this indoor season? Schoen is the defending 3A champion from Top Times, holding off Johnston to be the only athlete under 5:00 in the field on the day. Unfortunately, Schoen's track season ended prematurely with a stress fracture. Schoen is healthy to start the 2023 season, which began with a co-ed time trial win at home in 5:14. She competes this final year for the Vikings before donning a sky-blue Columbia Lions uniform.
Elena Rybak turned some eyes in the 1A outdoor meet last year with her 2:12.xx anchor for the Fr. McGivney 4x800, and then running away with the 1600 1A state title in under five minutes. Rybak closed her season running 4:58.1 for the Full Mile in St. Louis. She is the 1A Top Times defending champion. Her cross country season was inconsistent with injury, but the ceiling she has flashed firmly puts her in the 1600 conversation regardless of classification.
One of the most improved runners during the cross country season was 3A runner-up Juliet Frum (So., Northbrook (Glenbrook North)). Frum just barely missed a national qualification and can build on a 5:09 best from the state that gave her 11th in the final. Frum is a strong candidate to outpace her projections from the last track season.
A good pick for a dark horse performer in the mile this year: Rachel Soukup (Sr., Crystal Lake (Prairie Ridge)). She is a sub-5:00 performer dating back to 2021. She 'only' managed 5:04 during the 2022 outdoor season (still good for 10th at 3A state) but... her cross country season this fall was a revelation, dominating northern Illinois competition during the year before being the only runner within shouting distance of Tatum David at the state meet. If cross country is any indication, we can see the best version of Soukup in her four years of high school this spring.
Prospect could have as many as five sub-5:00 runners this year, and at least a couple during the indoor season. Cameron Kalaway (Sr.), Lily Ginsberg (Jr.), and Hailey Erickson (Sr.) have the most extensive 1600 track record, and each ran 5:00 or faster at a rainy time trial on October 12. But Meg Peterson (Fr.) and Veronica Znajda (So.) are strong enough to place at Top Times or state if they run the event. Prospect loaded their 4x800 and then entered the full relay in the 1600 at Top Times in 2022. The strategy outdoors will be tailored toward chasing a second straight track trophy.
Other names to watch: Sofia Arcuri (So., Park Ridge (Maine South)), Emma Berres (So., Naperville (North)), Louisa Diamond (Sr., Lisle (Benet Academy)), Sarah Fischer (Sr., Hinsdale (Central)), Becca Heitzig (Jr., Lincoln), Mia Kotler (So., Chicago (Latin)), Izzy Marsico (Jr., Lake Forest), Mia Pasha (Sr., Gurnee (Warren)), Sophia Ramirez (Fr., Washington), Audra Soderlind (Sr., Oswego), Colleen Zeibert (Sr., Rochester)