Track star Ali Ince closes cross country career at IHSA State Finals, Joey Yaros makes State debut

Ali Ince capped her senior cross country season with a third straight State appearance. Junior Joey Yaros made his debut after setting a school record at Sectionals.
Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson
Ali Ince capped her senior cross country season with a third straight State appearance. Junior Joey Yaros made his debut after setting a school record at Sectionals. Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson

Three-time IHSA State cross country qualifier Ali Ince (’24) and Joey Yaros (’25) closed out the season with appearances at the 3A State Finals in Peoria Nov. 4. 

Ince finished her senior State race in 19:16.00, less than five seconds off her pace the year prior (19:10.62).

Battling an illness before this year’s State contest, Ince said she “just wanted to see what [she] could do.” 

“It was a little tough to breathe,” Ince said, “definitely not what I was hoping for.” 

While Ince boasted a sub-six-minute time in the first mile of the race, she said she “fell apart” in the second mile, “the hard part of the course.” 

“When you go back in the triangle,” Ince said, there are “not too many fans to cheer you on.”

Last season, after posting a time of 17:30.54 in her State debut sophomore year, Ince struggled on a course that was “insanely muddy.”

As the 2022 3A race was one of the last of the day, the course, Ince said, was “extremely difficult,” and runners’ times were “a minute slower than usual.”

The over 100-second differential from Ince’s sophomore State results to her junior and senior races isn’t because the runner is slipping. 

Not just about the conditions, but her conditioning. 

“At Normal Community,” Ince said, distance training is more “targeted towards track events” then “other really strong distance, cross country schools.”

Community’s distance runners don’t run nearly the mileage, Ince said, as some other programs. 

“What I do, Ince said, “and what our team does is more geared towards the mile, the 800.” 

“We’re track runners training for cross country. We’re not necessarily… training for three miles [in the fall] always,” Ince said. 

That track-first focus has paid off–she has won six individual state gold medals in track, winning the 3A State 800- title three years running and taking first place in the 400-meter in back-to-back seasons. 

When Ince heads to Oregon State next season, continuing her athletic career competing in track and field, she will miss cross country runners’ unique willingness to encourage each other through the struggles of long-distance running. 

“To have their support behind you while you’re running and going through that pain,” Ince said, “is pretty special.”

Ince’s cross country State race marked the end of a four-year legacy in the IHSA post-season, including State qualifications the past three seasons and a first-place Sectionals finish her freshman year—the one season no State meet was held. 

Yaros made his first State appearance this season after a record-breaking Sectional performance, finishing the State race in 15:36:21

“I was really confident,” Yaros said after his Sectionals performance. “I had got my best time ever–under 15 minutes. They ranked me 45th in [the] state.” 

At the State meet, the junior said, other runners “got to him”—he finished 130 in the field of 236 runners. 

But Yaros is optimistic about the 2024 post-season. 

“My goal is next year’s Top 25,” Yaros said. “I know I can do it. I have the confidence in myself.”

 

 

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