3A Girls State Preview: One For The Money, Two For The Show

Junior Katelyn Lehnen of Chatham-Glenwood is one athlete you don't want to miss in Charleston!

Date: May 17-18, 2024

Location: Eastern Illinois University; Charleston IL

Time Schedule: HERE

Ali Ince's Final Call-

"Ali" Allison Ince (Sr., Normal (Community)) enters the state meet with eight state championships on the track, several of which are among the most iconic races in state history.

As a nod to the first year, she gathered three titles; Ince is competing in the same event load she did in 2021: the 800, 1600, and the 4x400. Winning championships and scoring points have always been a goal for Ince and the Ironmen. Still, Ince specifically indicated that a point of emphasis this year is finally grabbing the state meet 800 record.

Ince's 2:07.06 from 2021 was just .01 seconds off of Courtney Clayton's 2:07.05 from 2013. A record in the 800 would pair nicely with her 1600 state meet record. Although it is unlikely that her 4:40.85 record from 2021 will fall, Ince seems fit to run away from the pack quickly in the mile as she gears for her biggest challenge, anchoring Normal to a win in the 4x400. Normal is thick in the mix as just one of two teams under 3:55 at sectionals, but in a deep year, the 4x400 will be a gauntlet.

What will be Ince's final impression of the state this weekend? Stay tuned!

Historically Strong Sprint Relays Take Mainstage-

There is no question which event group is the strongest in the state this year: the relays in 3A, especially the sprint relays. The 3A 4x100 features five of the top 12 teams in Illinois history, and the 3A 4x100 features ten teams running fast enough to be a top 50 team all time. This depth wasn't a slow ramp-up from last year but rather quite immediate. 48.50 was required to make the 4x100 final in 2023, but 17 teams exceeded that mark at sectionals. Similarly, 17 teams entered with seeds faster than the 1:42.92 needed to make the 4x200 final. Both of these cut-offs will undoubtedly be faster this year and may require an additional 'tick,' something in the 47-second range for the 4x100 and the 1:41 range for the 4x200. 

This year, the state's single-best single-lap relay performance belongs to Whitney Young, whose 46.42 rocket race at the CPL Championship Meet was the fastest the state has seen in a decade. The Dolphins have 'Proof of Concept' this time but enter only as the third-best seed behind Kankakee and Huntley, entering their sub-47 and top-10 all-time marks. The margin of error for each team is razor thin, with a host of teams running under 48.00 at sectionals. Plainfield North, Homewood-Flossmoor, Belleville East, Barrington, O'Fallon, York, and Kenwood all broke the 48-second barrier, but incredibly, at least one of those teams will be sitting out on Saturday. (Subtext for Kankakee is that star Naomi Bey-Osborne (Jr.) is currently listed as Questionable for the state meet after suffering an injury during the 200 at the Minooka Sectional). Watch for Metro East teams Belleville East and O'Fallon, particularly as real threats under the 47.1 watershed at the Southwestern Conference meet. 

Many of these same teams return for the loaded 4x200. Enter Prospect and Neuqua Valley into the fray, who joined Huntley as 1:39 performers out of sectionals, all top-20 performances in state history. The seventeen teams under last year's 1:42.9 finals cut-off are distributed throughout five heats, with at least one heat getting just a single team through. Will it take 1:41 to make the finals? That seems likely as Lake Zurich, the 11th seed, brings a 1:41.84 to the table. O'Fallon, Belleville East, Plainfield North, Homewood-Flossmoor, Batavia, Whitney Young, and Barrington complete the deep list of groups who need to bring it all on Friday to survive and advance, as the adage goes. 

Finally, although the depth in the 4x400 isn't quite as historic as the other relays (yet), it looks to be a notch tougher than in 2023, when 4:00.7 was good enough to make the final. In 2023, six teams entered at 4:00 or faster. That number is 17 this year, with the Katelyn Lehnen-led Glenwood Titans as the 17th seed in 4:00.44. The ninth seed sits at 3:58.66, so teams must run at least 3:57 to feel good about their final chances. Whitney Young and Normal Community look to be co-favorites in this race with 3:54 seed times. 

Huntley Chases Whitney Young in Title Defense

Huntley threw a balanced attack at the event list to win the 3A title last year. They lost state champions Alex Johnson and Ally Panzloff and scorer Breanna Burak, but Huntley has reloaded and is, on paper, the best threat to Whitney Young, who has been the #1 ranked team all season. Along with the sprint above relays, Dominique Johnson (Jr.) is the biggest point base for the Raiders as a Triple Jump favorite (and defending state champion) and a Long Jump contender. They also get two big boosts absent from scoring last year: Sienna Robertson (Jr.), who will be one half of a battle for the discus title, and Sophie Amin (Sr.), who is a strong bet to win a preferred lane on Saturday in the 100h. Robertson finished 11th in the DT in 2023, and Amin suffered an injury in the hurdles in the sectional meet, keeping her out of the state meet. Victoria Evtimov is also a potential scorer in the 200. 

Converting on each possible score opportunity is essential for Huntley to defeat Whitney Young. The Dolphins have led the way with strength in the sprints and depth in the field. Their attack begins with Angelena Bullocks (Jr.), who first appears in the 3A state meet after competing in 2A for Westinghouse last year. Bullocks is the wind-legal state leader in the 100 (11.59) and the 200 (24.02). She also runs on the second leg for Whitney Young's 4x100 and 4x200 teams, both contenders for titles in those events. She doesn't run on their 4x400, but they are still state leaders at 3:54 from their sectional. Win. Simone Bernard (Jr.) is their last scoring potential on the track in the 100 hurdles. Finally, Young does have qualifiers in five field events, but points are most likely to come in the Triple Jump from Courtney Burt (So.) and Layla Bonilla (Jr.). 

Huntley has the edge over Young in the Field, so the race between these two will look like Young chasing a Huntley total on the track. 

However, although these two teams are out front of the pack, the margin isn't very wide. 

Close behind are Neuqua Valley, Prospect, Normal Community, and Glenwood. Zawadi Brown (Sr.) helps Neuqua Valley's case in the 100, 200, and Long Jump (where teammate Olivia Dalson is also a 19-foot jumper) and the state-leading 4x200. Normal Community complements the points that Ali Ince will accumulate with Marco Reynolds (Jr.) in the Shot Put, Jazmin West (Sr.) in the 100 and Queen-Patricia Lubala (Sr.) in the 300 hurdles. Glenwood's Katelyn Lehnen (Jr.), Reese Wolfe (Jr.), and Natalie Alexander (Sr.) pack a potent 1-2-3 punch in the sprints, vault, and hurdles, respectively. It would take too long to list Prospect's qualifiers, but their strength in the relays, distance, and hurdles races give them a 'divide and conquer' kind of profile with a ceiling capable of beating Huntley and Young. Finally, watch out for Homewood-Flossmoor, Kankakee, Simeon, and Downers Grove North to vy for top-10 spots. 

Downers Grove North looks to Upend Prospect Bid for 4x800 4-Peat

No team has been more dominant in a relay since COVID than the Prospect Knights, who are seeking their fourth straight 3A 4x800 win. They have been so dominant that they didn't need their entire lineup, opting for Meg Peterson (So.) to run elsewhere. However, this year, their most imposing force stands in their way: Illinois state leader Downers Grove North, who was hot on Prospect's heels indoors and owns a 9:05 season best from the WSC-Silver Conference Meet. North's emergence has two major contributors: their depth and the improvement of Ava Gilley (Jr.), who has become one of the state's best in the 800 in 2:13.31 from sectionals. Sarah Paul (Sr.) has been one of the Trojans' most consistent legs, but your guess is as good as ours for the rest of their lineup. As Lily Eddington (So.) has returned to full strength, she looks to be a solid bet for one of the last two legs, and Alayna Todnem (Jr.), Sydney Hniatuk (Sr.) and Hannah Renner (Jr.) have all proven to be strong candidates to put Prospect's feet to the fire in this relay. 

Prospect appeared committed to defending their title at full strength when Veronica Znajda (Jr.) and Meg Peterson (So.) were not entered in the 3200. There is less mystery to Prospect's lineup, which will also include three-time relay winner Lily Ginsberg (Sr.) and Mary Laba (Jr.), a rapidly improving leg. 

Incredibly, this dynastic 4x800 run for Prospect has produced no sub-9:00 times. However, such a time may be necessary to hold off Downers Grove North. How do the two teams align their teams? Where will North put Gilley? Indoors, she went lead-off and raced head-to-head against Znajda. Who does Prospect anchor? This has been Ginsberg's spot for two years but Peterson was the anchor indoors. The state has long awaited a match to equal the Wheaton South, Glenbard West and Prospect showdown in 2012 that produced the current state record of 8:59 by Wheaton South. After twelve years, we finally seem set to get it. 

Fire meets Fire in Girls' 3200m

Liv Phillips (Sr.) seeks her first-ever state championship and has her eyes set on her best event, the 3200. But parallel to Phillip's dominance over two miles has been the emergence of freshman Mia Sirois (Barrington), undefeated outdoors in this event and currently the class leader. Both girls have run 10:24, easily clear of the rest of the field (Benet's Delilah Helenhouse (Jr.) is next in 10:47). Although their paths to this point in the season are very different, these two runners have shown similar styles of racing, running strong paces from the gun and slowly ratcheting up the pace throughout the race. As a result, the tactics for this final will be fascinating. Does Phillips conclude her career with a state title, or does Sirois announce her arrival to the state as the big class' great distance runner in the coming years? 

Throw-off in Discus with New Stars

Seven of the nine 3A all-staters in the Discus Throw were seniors, so it is no surprise that the top of the leaderboard is dominated by new names. In particular, Huntley moved on from Ally Panzloff to Sienna Robertson (Jr.), the state leader with a 148' throw and an important contributor to Huntley's title hopes. Throughout May, Robertson has gone blow-for-blow with massively improved sophomore Jaloni Wiley (Jr.), whose 144-foot throw to win her conference meet is the second-ranked state throw. The state leaderboard back-and-forth may be microcosmic for the battle between these two. Don't forget Joi Story (So., Edwardsville), who became the third thrower over 140 at last week's Sectional meet. 

Dominique Johnson Has Sights on National Leaderboards in Triple Jump

The only field athlete attempting to defend her 2023 title in 3A is Dominique Johnson (Jr.) in the Triple Jump. Johnson has been, by far, the best Triple Jumper in the state since the beginning of the indoor season. Johnson has cleared 40 feet in 12 of her 13 competitions in 2024, and you will be hard-pressed to find a better field series than her outdoor conference performance: 41-0, 41-2, 41-5.5, PASS, PASS, PASS. That 41-5.5 is good for top-10 in the country and fourth among Class of 2025 jumpers. How far can Johnson go? If she can secure her repeat title, then Jaimie Robinson's state meet record of 42-7 may be next in her sights. That mark, if wind-legal, would be good enough to be the national lead as of May 16. Don't forget about the jumps pit after the Long Jump ends!