* Oak Park River Forest's Josephine Welin (left) and Ava Parekh (right) dueled over two big races at The Illinois Meet of Champions last week
Photos by Jorge Espinosa
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On the first day of The Illinois Meet of Champions last week at Hope Academy in Chicago, the fourth- and fifth-fastest 800 meter race of 2020 came in the boys elite race between Brandon Miller and AJ Green.
In some respects, a race like that can pay for the price of admission.
But if you stayed around long enough to catch a few other things happen, you would have been rewarded with the superb matchup of Chicago Latin School's Ava Parekh and Oak Park River Forest's Josephine Welin, two rising juniors with immense talent.
And yet it was Welin who made the biggest first impression on Thursday in the 3,200m.
Few would have expected the Illinois athlete to make a move on Parekh at that point of her career.
The previous indoor season, the sophomore had just broken 11 minutes in the 3,200m indoors, authoring a PR of 10:54.99 at the Homewood Flossmoor Girls ABC Showcase in February. Parekh, meanwhile, had gone 10:29.49 for two miles. Furthermore, Parekh had finished third at the IHSA Class 2A Cross Country Championships. Welin had been 16th in Class 3A.
But in a season such as this, surprises are often and sometimes shocking.
And the fast section of the 3,200m provided no shortage of thrills.
As most expected, Parekh, who won the Freshman Division one mile run at New Balance Nationals Indoor in 2019, took it out and dominated in the early going, rushing through the first 1,600 meters in 5:10.
As MileSplit Illinois reported that night, Welin trailed by as much as five seconds through the first four laps.
But then she saw an opening.
As Parekh waned just slightly, Welin kept her foot on the gas in that fifth lap, slowly closing the gap. She found the chase pack and then started to reel her competitor in.
By the final 300 meters, the Oak Park Forest River rising junior made her move, aptly described by Tony Jones, "a strike like a cobra," and earned both an incredible win and a national-level time in the process.
Welin's performance netted her a US No. 3 mark at 10:25.35, while Parekh wasn't far behind in a US No. 6 time of 10:30.69.
Girls Illinois Meet of Champions 3,200m Results
OPEN OPEN GIRLS 3200 METER RUN FINALS PLACE ATHLETE TEAM RESULT WIND H# 1 Josephine Welin 11 Unattached - IL 10:25.35 1 2 Ava Parekh 11 Unattached - IL 10:30.69 1 3 Meghan Ford 9 Unattached - IL 10:36.36 1 4 Lianna Surtz 11 Unattached - IL 10:53.42 1 5 Katrina Schlenker 11 Unattached - IL 10:59.16 1 6 Morgan Mackie 9 Sauganash Striders 11:00.26 1 7 Sophia Mcnerney 11 Unattached - IL 11:07.54 1 8 Bea Parr 12 Unattached - IL 11:14.29 1
This matchup was far from over, however.
An athlete's response to an adverse moment like that often tells a larger story of just what type of competitor they are, and internally it often fires you up.
So when the girls 1-mile race came back around on Saturday, it was an interesting moment for Parekh.
Just how would she respond?
That answer came quickly, like a snap of lightning.
Parekh never wavered, keeping on task with a pacer through two laps and hit her marker at 2:24 through the 809 meter split.
Welin, meanwhile, was just trying to hang on. Anything under 5:08 would have been a lifetime-best for Welin, but another win? That was a little too much to ask.
Parekh continued her onslaught in the race and finished, ultimately, just a hair off her overall PR with a time of 4:51.56, landing her a US No. 8 time. Welin, meanwhile, captured her first sub-5 effort and went 4:55.33, which was the ninth-best mile time of 2020.
Parekh's 1,500m split was 4:32.62 and her 1,600m was 4:49.67 -- those en route times were also the best of her career at those distances.
Girls Illinois Meet of Champions 1-Mile Results
OPEN OPEN GIRLS ONE MILE RUN FINALS PLACE ATHLETE TEAM RESULT WIND H# 1 Ava Parekh 11 Unattached - IL 4:51.56 1 2 Josephine Welin 11 Unattached - IL 4:55.33 1 3 Allison Ince 9 Unattached - IL 5:00.53 1 4 Annie Christie 12 Unattached - IL 5:00.81 1 5 Lianna Surtz 11 Unattached - IL 5:00.83 1 6 Morgan Mackie 9 Sauganash Striders 5:02.64 1 7 Marianne Mihas 12 Unattached - IL 5:10.29 1 8 Amanda O'donnell 11 Unattached - IL 5:14.24 1