NORMAL, Ill. (BVM) — Ali Ince is one of the top high school distance runners in the state of Illinois as just a freshman. After an impressive youth cross country career that featured a state title last season when she was in eighth grade, Ince entered Normal Community High School with high expectations, and has delivered.
The 14-year-old freshman first began her competitive running career in sixth grade. Growing up, Ince loved playing soccer, and also began playing basketball and volleyball.
An all-around athlete, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as Ince has followed in the footsteps of her parents. Ince’s mother is a former basketball player and golfer in college, while her father played collegiately on the hardwood as well. Not only have the parents passed down their athletic genes, but they have also provided their daughter with the support she needs to be successful.
“They’re always so motivational and they push me to be the best I can,” Ince said.
Ince has also gained a strong work ethic from her parents, and that has been shown ever since she began running in sixth grade. As a Kingsley Junior High student, Ince went up against seventh and eighth graders at the Class 3 IESA state meet, and placed 16th in the 3200-meter. The race would be the first time Ince broke 12 minutes in that event.
“To break 12 was definitely a goal,” Ince said. “But ultimately I just wanted to go out and have fun because I didn’t know what a state meet was like. I really just went out and ran my hardest and was kind of shocked to be in the top-25. It was a great experience and it really opened another door that made me think I can do this.”
Ince also competed in the 800-meter and 1600-meter events at the Class 7-AA state track meet in 2018, both of which she would place in fourth.
As a result of her impressive finishes, Ince became more serious with running after her sixth grade year. Just a few months later, she would improve her finish in the state cross country meet from 16th to sixth, with a time of 11:39.1.
The 14-year-old would cap off that season with state championship track wins in the 800 and 1600. Then, by the fall, Ince would go on to dominate at the state cross country meet, winning by over 12 seconds with a 11:17.4 time.
“It was really great to win it,” Ince said. “My goal was to run sub-11 which definitely did not happen, but it was still a great experience.”
Ince also cherishes her eighth grade season because her junior high team would finish fourth overall at state.
This fall, Ince has joined another successful program at Normal Community High School. Predictably, the expectations were high for the freshman coming into the season.
“My goal this year was to be in the 17s for all the races,” Ince said. “I was also just so excited to finally be on Community’s cross country team. The coaches are awesome and I love my teammates too.”
While Ince has made the transition from junior high to high school cross country look seamless, there are some differences. Most notably is having to run a longer distance, with three-mile races in high school compared to two in middle school. Ince also notes that the races in high school are much more serious and include a lot stiffer competition.
However, it hasn’t made much of a difference for the star runner. After having her track season canceled last spring, the 14-year-old took a few weeks off, and then began training with her brother. In pristine shape, Ince was ready for the cross country season by the end of summer.
As a freshman, Ince has thoroughly impressed. She ended up taking home wins at several events, including two notable victories at the Randy Sharer Bloomington/Normal Intercity Cross Country Meet, and the Peoria Notre Dame Blue-Green Invite.
“I was very excited at the Randy Sharer Intercity Meet,” Ince said. “At all the other meets we had there weren’t as many teams or as much competition so there was definitely some adrenaline and motivation to do good. The Notre Dame meet also had good competition and it was great to get to run on the state course. Getting a win in that one was great.”
Ince has closed her freshman season in impressive fashion as well. A couple weeks ago, she took home a win at the regional meet, and followed that up with a win last weekend at sectionals where she ran a 17:46.61 time. Unfortunately, the state meet was canceled this year due to COVID-19, but had it been run, Ince’s name would have been amongst the favorites.
The standout freshman has also led her team to new heights, helping them earn a win in regionals and achieve their goal with a top-three finish at sectionals.
The future is bright not only for the Normal Community’s girls cross country and track programs, but also for Ince individually. She hopes to keep getting better each year throughout her high school career, and has lofty goals for whenever she does finally compete in a state championship.
“Once there is a state meet, it would definitely be nice to win,” Ince said. “Once we have bigger meets and invitationals I hope to do well and improve the times. We want to win as a team, we have some good athletes coming in and right now we have some great ones so we just want to continue to do great and have some good times.”
Ince will not just be starring on the track at Normal Community, but will also be following in her parents’ footsteps on the basketball court this winter. With the season now expected to go on as scheduled, Ince is looking forward to that part of her athletic career.
“I love basketball,” Ince mentioned. “I’m not really sure how the season will look this year but the coaches are really great and I’m really looking forward to the team aspect. I can’t wait to be on a high school basketball team.”
While college is still several years down the road for Ince, she has goals of running for a Division I program. She isn’t sure where she might want to go just yet, however she has begun doing research on some of the top programs in the nation.
But first, she has plenty to accomplish throughout the rest of her high school career. After such an impressive first season, Ince knows she and her team will have made their mark on the Normal Community program by the time all is said and done.
“It’s been really great to come into this,” Ince said. “I’ve known the coaches for a while because my mom works at the school. After my years of high school are over, I just hope other girls want to come out for the cross country team and break my records. I really just want to get people to run and have a good time because, really, that’s what cross country is about.”