PEORIA — The nickname was given the first day of practice: State champ.
The affirmation came Saturday, the 87th day after high school cross-country teams started their official fall workouts: State champ.
St. Joseph-Ogden's Chelsea Blaase earned the title. She outraced a field of 206 competitors at Detweiller Park to win the girls' Class 1A state crown with a record-setting time. She was clocked in 17 minutes, 12 seconds for 3 miles.
The more Blaase thought about the preseason moniker, the more she thought about pursuing it.
"I'd like to give them a reason to call me that," she said.
A tireless worker — who logged 500 training miles during the heat of the summer — Blaase was up for the challenge that SJ-O coach Jon Jamison routinely had for her at practice.
"We'd put (fresh) guys ahead of her in workouts and tell them, 'Go,' " Jamison said, "and today, we had kids along the course who, when they saw her, said, 'Remember the workout.' "
Blaase went out with a four-runner pack, hoping to surge into the lead. It didn't happen. "I didn't let it faze me," she said, "but I didn't take the lead until the last 100 meters."
Then, she made sure it wasn't close, winning by six seconds and lowering the meet mark by 15 seconds. Her time would have been third in the 2A race or earned her all-state honors in 3A.
"She put in such a strong base and created the beast she was today," Jamison said.
The coach joked about isolating Blaase in bubble wrap in the days before the big race. As a freshman she sprained an ankle at school on the stairs the day before state.
As a sophomore she had walking pneumonia but still placed 32nd. As a junior she took a tumble 800 meters into the race but recovered for ninth.
As a senior, Jamison said, "everything went perfect."
Blaase made sure to be extra careful all week. "I drank a ton of O.J. and got my sleep," she said.
Her championship — the first by an area girl — is the culmination of a goal she set in junior high, when her best state finish was 19th.
"It's a dream come true," she said. "It took a lot of determination and never giving up the dream."
On a day when area teams placed third (Monticello) and seventh (SJ-O), Blaase was one of four all-staters from the area. Hoopeston Area senior Lauren Houmes was sixth and Monticello teammates Hannah Houska, a sophomore, and Maggie Utgaard, a freshman, were 13th and 24th, respectively.
Houmes recognized she couldn't get lost behind the pack at the outset nor could she start an unmanageable pace.
"Sometimes you go out way too fast and all of a sudden realize there's still 2 1/2 miles left," Houmes said. "I had to go out fast yet be conservative."
Houmes was fifth after 2 miles and had no complaints with her finish.
"No regrets," she said. "Sixth is pretty doggone good. I give the glory to God. He gave me all my strength and peace of mind."
Monticello coach Jeff Butler said the team finish was more than satisfying.
"Coming into the season we were an unknown, but they kept getting better and better," Butler said. "The older girls were huge in getting the younger girls there. Michele (Moyer, senior) was such a calming influence. She had so much to do with this third place. The confidence was coming off of her."
In Class 2A, Mahomet-Seymour ended 18th in the 25-school field.
Coach Bonnie Moxley was happiest about the performance of her four seniors. Two ran career-best times, another tied her all-time best and team leader Rachel Rodriguez (the first area 2A finisher in 64th place) was five seconds off her top time. She ran 18:44.
"The most important thing was the seniors went out with their best races ever," Moxley said.
Nikki Lewis (104th) matched her personal best (19:11). Lauren Penrose (169th) cut off 43 seconds, and Ceirra Nevin (181st) dropped 13 seconds.
Centennial's Audrey White was 94th. Central's Hannah Wright was 114th.