ST. JOSEPH — Chelsea Blaase has to work on her name recognition. The St. Joseph-Ogden senior is a well-known runner, notoriety that is fitting for a cross-country state champion.
Many of those who know her, however, associate her name with Blaze, perhaps due to the speed she possesses.
To properly pronounce her name, think of your first reaction to watching her impressive runaway performances.
"Ah," you say.
Then, add "Bl" to the beginning and "s" to the end.
That's how you say SJ-O's first individual state champion in cross-country, a title she earned last month in the Class 1A state finals at Peoria's Detweiller Park.
"A lot of people call me 'Blaze,' " she said. "It sounds cool. I like it."
It's a bigger issue for her friends, who often try to correct those who mis-speak.
"They get irritated and say, 'We want to make sure you get recognition,' " Blaase said. "It will probably die down sooner or later."
Maybe quicker than the hubbub about her running. On a day girls' state titles were at stake in three classes, the best of the small-school runners tied for the day's 14th-best time: 17 minutes, 12 seconds.
She is the repeat choice as The News-Gazette's Girls' Runner of the Year.
Family fun times
The follow-the-leader mentality worked in reverse form for the Blaase family. Usually, it's the children whose interests are shaped by their parents' allegiances.
In the Blaase household, it worked out differently. Drew Blaase, Chelsea's older brother, started running in junior high. His sister followed the next year.
Mom and Dad didn't want to feel left out.
"Mr. (John) McDannald (the junior high coach) made it so much fun for the kids, Nancy and I decided we'd better get in shape, too," said Doug Blaase, the father.
They ran together and even did the 2010 Illinois Marathon.
"Running gets into you after a while and becomes a part of your life," Doug Blaase said, "and it's a way to keep the pounds off and keep your heart healthy."
Ending the chase
For Chelsea Blaase, there was a point in the state championship race where she had not yet caught up with the leaders.
"They started to pick it up, and I was tired," she said. "I thought, 'I can get fourth and everyone will be happy. Life will go on.' "
Fourth would have been the highest finish by any SJ-O girl at state. Reflecting on a summer when she ran 500 miles, a summer where she packed her running shoes — and used them — on vacations or mission trips to Missouri, Florida and Wisconsin, she decided not to settle.
"I surged with them because I would have been really upset with myself if I didn't," Blaase said. "I wanted to stay with them and find their breaking point."
It evolved into a two-person race between Blaase and Bloomington Central Catholic's Alex VanHoof.
"When she tired, I started my kick and had more left in me," Blaase said.
She won by six seconds in a race she never led until the final 100 meters. With 800 meters remaining, she trailed by 10 meters.
A hero's welcome
Blaase was escorted back into town the evening of her triumph by a fire truck and was the subject of an all-school assembly the Wednesday morning after her breakthrough title.
It was an important moment, SJ-O coach Jon Jamison said, because "half of the people here wouldn't know she was a state champion if they saw her in the hall. She is very quiet."
Blaase was appreciative of the school ceremony though classmates told her, "I looked more nervous than I did at state."
Truth is, her friends were very observant.
"It was very nerve-racking," she said, adding, "I'm glad they did it. I was overjoyed by everyone's reaction."
Chelsea Blaase hasn't always been on the fast track to success as a runner.
Her competitive career began in junior high, but it wouldn't be obvious to those who scan the school's all-time leaderboard.
"She made it when she was in junior high," Doug Blaase said, "but when times go faster they knock you off the (leader) board. She's not even on the board now."
That fact certainly will be part of the motivational speeches used in upcoming years by the SJ-O youth cross-country coaches.
"Other kids will see it can be done," Doug Blaase said. "Mr. McDannald told her by winning she'll help the younger kids."
Better times ahead
Blaase's steady progression is the reason Jamison believes she has yet to hit her peak.
"She hasn't tapped her potential," Jamison said. "She has natural ability, but she made a lot of it. Once we started grouping her with the guys (in practice), she was able to go at a faster pace."
By nature, Blaase is quiet and soft-spoken, though her father said, "she opens up and is more talkative at home."
Though her family understood her goal was to be a state champion as a senior, the thought was never verbalized at home. She didn't lack the confidence to state her quest.
"After she won, my sister-in-law said she'd told her this past summer she'd win state," Doug Blaase said. "We never knew it."
He had an idea of her ambitions during an early-season recruiting trip to Illinois State University.
"The coach said, 'What are your goals,' and she said to run 17:10," Doug Blaase said. "I thought the girl who won last year was at 17:36 and she ran 18:18 the year before."
Chelsea Blaase set attainable goals. Her season's best time was 17:09 at sectionals and, at state, she was within three seconds of duplicating that performance.
Ask for her season highlight and Chelsea Blaase doesn't dwell on her own achievements, which included winning 10 of the 12 races she ran as a senior.
"My first memory," she said softly, "is the good times we had with the team. We had fun all the time. The whole season, we made sure to have fun. We made running fun."
Girls’ Cross-Country Athlete of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2011 Chelsea Blaase St. Joseph-Ogden
2010 Chelsea Blaase St. Joseph-Ogden
2009 Team Urbana
2008 Erika Ramos Hoopeston Area
2007 Amy Clawson Mahomet-Seymour
2006 Michelle Mehnert Uni High
2005 Cara Feeney St. Thomas More
2004 Hannah Hogan St. Joseph-Ogden
Getting to know ... Chelsea Blaase
Favorite athlete — Kristin Wurth-Thomas
Favorite musicians — Yellowcard
Favorite class — P.E.
Favorite movie — “Paranormal Activity 3”
Favorite store — Body N’ Sole
Favorite restaurant — Red Lobster
Favorite phone — Envy
Favorite car — Ferrari
Clubs, activities — Spanish Club, Student Council, secretary of senior class
College plans — Major in physical therapy and continue running competitively
NAME SCHOOL YR.
Brittany Baker St. Joseph-Ogden Fr.
Kathryn Boyer St. Thomas More Sr.
Haley Briggs Argenta-Oreana Sr.
Loren Brooks St. Joseph-Ogden So.
Veronica Brooks St. Joseph-Ogden Fr.
Kim Carter Danville Jr.
Nicole Choquette Urbana Jr.
Taylor Coats Centennial Sr.
Hannah Cuttell Centennial Sr.
Abby Fisher St. Joseph-Ogden Fr.
Emily Foley Monticello So.
Jasmine Gray Champaign Central Fr.
Sam Groce Prairie Central Sr.
Tessa Hanlon Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Randa Harshbarger St. Thomas More So.
Lauren Houmes Hoopeston Area Sr.
Hannah Houska Monticello So.
Rebecca Kaefring Centennial Fr.
Jessica Kassuelks St. Joseph-Ogden Fr.
Nikki Lewis Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Megan McKee Georgetown-RF/Chrisman So.
Allie Melchi Mahomet-Seymour So.
Michelle Moyer Monticello Sr.
Ceirra Nevin Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Abigail Nielsen Mahomet-Seymour So.
Jolee Paden St. Joseph-Ogden Sr.
Lauren Penrose Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Lisa Ponder Tuscola Sr.
Alivia Powers Clinton Sr.
Alyssa Pridemore St. Joseph-Ogden So.
Hannah Remmert Monticello Jr.
Hannah Robinson Sullivan/Okaw Valley Jr.
Rachel Rodriguez Mahomet-Seymour Sr.
Laura Seiler Unity Sr.
Madison Tutich Monticello Fr.
Maggie Utgaard Monticello Fr.
Sarah Vaughen Urbana Uni High Jr.
Jaki Vipond Urbana Uni High So.
Liz Walter Prairie Central So.
Theresa Welle St. Thomas More Jr.
Audrey White Centennial Sr.
Hannah Wright Champaign Central So.