OPRF senior Josephine Welin | Paul Nickoley

OPRF senior battled back from a stress fracture that sidelined her until mid-September

Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Josephine Welin enjoyed a breakthrough 2020 as the state’s top girls cross country runner.

Returning to the IHSA Class 3A state meet on Nov. 6, Welin made the most of a personal triumph after regaining her fitness since being diagnosed in late June with a stress fracture in her left foot.

“I would probably say at sectionals [Oct. 30], running through those really difficult conditions and still managing to win and push myself hard, that was definitely one of the first races where I was proud of my effort,” Welin said.

“After that race, I was like, ‘OK. I’m ready [for state].’”

OPRF senior Josephine Welin | Paul Nickoley

Welin led from the start and captured her long-awaited state championship in a personal-record 16 minutes 26.35 seconds over the 3-mile course at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

An all-state 16th as a sophomore, Welin dominated last year’s IHSA sectional in course-record time, but there was no IHSA state meet because of COVID restrictions.

“I was really wanting [an IHSA] cross country state title. All I’ve been through this summer with my injury and building back, it’s really fulfilling to finally have this,” said Welin, a University of Washington recruit.

“It was wonderful,” said OPRF coach Ashley Raymond. “To actually do it at IHSA and having only a summer of cross training and working all season to gain confidence in herself was awesome.”

OPRF (15th, 388 points) posted five personal records. Sophomore Katie Stabb was 57th (17:51.08), passing 21 runners the final mile, followed by juniors Avery Minnis (93rd, 18:14.67) and Natalie Quinn (156th, 18:55.61), sophomore Lenny Sterritt (200th, 19:28.34), junior Anne Stine (220th, 19:55.54) and senior Samantha Duwe (231st, 22:08.79), who collapsed while finishing.

Welin’s 5:10.8 first mile opened a 10-second gap. By two miles, Welin’s 10:45.4 (5:34.6 split) led by 13.3 seconds. Welin won by 2.73 seconds over Grant High School senior Aly Negovetich (16:29.08).

When Welin made her season debut Sept. 18 at Detweiller, she ran 16:40.9.

“I came into this with a lot more confidence and knowing that I’m going to lead from the start,” Welin said. “I went out of a little harder than I wanted to, but I just went with it and tried to maintain the best I could. The last mile I was definitely feeling it.”

At the IHSA state track championships in June, Welin won the 3,200-meter championship as expected behind her solid training base.

Saturday’s victory demanded even more grit.

“She did have a lot of work to do to get herself to believe she could do it with such short training.” Raymond said. “I’m going to miss her a lot. She’s a genuinely kind and compassionate person.”

In Class 3A boys, OPRF junior Liam Newhart’s huge personal record of 15:09.27 was good for 45th place overall.

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