SOMERS — As recently as Saturday morning, Kelcy Welch never would have believed she was a contender, much less a champion.
The senior at Carmel High School in Indiana finished 66th last year at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Midwest Regional. Furthermore, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her back in July, forcing her to stop training. And once she returned in September, she ran with a back brace.
“I missed the first four meets of my high school season and in my very first race back, I had no expectations,” Welch said. “But I ended up getting a 10-second PR.”
Her unexpected renaissance continued when she won the Indiana state championship, which includes all divisions.
And when Welch returned to the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course at UW-Parkside Saturday, she was hardly just another runner. Instead, she took advantage of favorable running conditions to win the girls seeded race, covering the 5,000-meter course in 17:34 to earn a berth in the Foot Locker Nationals Dec. 14 at Balboa Park in San Diego.
The top 10 girls and top 10 boys in the two seeded races Saturday earned berths to the nationals. And afterward, Welch still wasn’t believing it.
“My junior year, I just came out here just for fun,” Welch said. “I just wanted to have a fun road trip with my teammates. And I knew I would do it again this year.
“But even if you would have told me this morning that I would have won this race, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”
Welch finished three seconds ahead of Stephanie Jenks of Aurora, Iowa. Rebekah Topham of Griswold, Iowa was third in 17:45.
Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc, Mich., won the boys seeded race in 15:02 — seven seconds ahead of runner-up Addison DeHaven of Brookings, S.D., a University of Wisconsin recruit.
The top Racine County finisher was Park junior Amanda Johnson, who was 120th in the girls seeded race. Johnson finished in 19:52.