Eavan Norman still doesn’t know which high school race she likes best. Fenny Gunter can’t say for sure who’ll be in the various relay lineups for the Evanston girls track team when postseason competition begins in another month.
But Saturday’s competition at the second annual Eastlake Classic invitational held at windswept and warm Hanson Stadium in Chicago gave both the ETHS freshman and her head coach an indication of what their respective next steps are.
Norman earned a second place finish in the 1600-meter race and senior teammate Hailey Taylor won the 200 dash and placed second in the long jump, leading the Wildkits to a tie for fifth place in the team standings with Proviso West with 60 points apiece. East St. Louis Senior topped the 14-team field with 126 points, followed by Mother McAuley (86), Springfield Southeast (64), Thornton Fractional South (61.5), ETHS and Proviso.
With teammate Enyaeva Michelin competing at the Midwest Distance Classic in Indianapolis — where she ruled the 1600 in a time of 5 minutes, 10.7 seconds — Norman stepped up to fill the distance void for the Kits Saturday in her first outdoor test of the season.
Knowing that the excessive winds would impact her time, the 5-foot-1, 90-pound freshman stayed comfortably in back of a pack of front-runners for three laps in the race to help block out some gusts, then charged home in the last 50 meters and caught all but the eventual winner, Zyana Cabrera of Whitney Young. Cabrera was clocked in 5:38.82 to 5:42.58 for Norman.
Norman was one of the ETHS cross-country squad’s top five runners last fall despite being hampered by painful shin splints for much of the season. She began her career as a 7th grader competing in cross country and ran more 800s than 1600s during the indoor season.
The 3200 may be in her future at some point this season, too.
“I definitely like track because you can do your own thing, you can run more than one race in a day and you can try different distances,” Norman said. “I’d like to try the two mile and I’m sure I will at some point. I’m still trying to get comfortable with one race — or maybe two.
“The 1600 is more of a pace race and running in that pack today helped me with my pacing. And it probably helped to stay behind those other girls with the wind like that. It was a crazy wind, all over the place. I wanted to go in the low 5:30s today, but then the winds came and the coaches just told me to run for a place. That’s only the second time I’ve run the 1600 and my finish was pretty good.”
Norman also teamed up with Noni Shelton, Gabrielle Horton and Hazel Brady for a runnerup finish in the 3200 relay in 10:43.26. Anchor runner Brady was edged at the finish line by Mother McCauley anchor Kate Doran, with the Macs clocked in 10:43.18.
ETHS recorded top five finishes in the other three relay events — third in the 800 and fifths in the 400 and 1600 — and with the weather conditions affecting the times in every race, Gunter was just happy to see some of those relay contestants pass his own eye test.
The Wildkit combination of Taylor, Tauja Foreman, Mina Jue and Ariel Logan performed together for the first time in the 800 relay and despite settling for a third place finish, ran just off the Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard of 1:45.69 with a 1:45.91 effort.
Gunter was also encouraged by the 49.97 clocking of the same foursome in the 400, where state qualifying is 49.45.
The veteran coach knows he still has plenty of time to find the pieces to the relay puzzles and likes the fact that he has options, even though it means counting on freshmen and sophomores to deliver at the big meets at the end of the spring campaign.
“We’re still working on those 4 x 200 and 4 x 100 relays,” Gunter said. “We looked at a couple of other girls today for the first time and I’d have to say that Mina Jue has earned her spot. She’s in there. We didn’t run (freshman) Kaila Holland and we held out (freshman) Asia Eddy, too. She’s got a bruised foot and we may hold her out another week. We do need to figure out the fourth person on that 4 x 200, but I felt like Mina really separated herself from the others today. She kept us in the mix in both races.
“We still have another couple of weeks before we say OK, this is it, these are our relays. But there have been times in the past where we haven’t finalized things for the relays until the state meet, so we’re not panicking. We’ve been through this before.”
“We’re still bouncing around a little bit (as far as the lineup) in the 800. No matter what I know I can always rely on Tauja (Foreman) when I pass her the stick,” said Taylor, who ran the leadoff leg Saturday. “But we don’t really have any other varsity sprinters back this year, so we have to see who can fill in the other spots. Those younger girls have held up their end and done their jobs so far. Mina opened up a gap in the race for us today, and Ariel might have a long way to go but she’s done an amazing job for us, too.”
Taylor’s winning time of 26.69 wasn’t close to her best in the 200, due to the conditions, but she also claimed second in the long jump at 16 feet, 10 inches, just five inches behind winner Kameesha Smith of Thornwood.
“Last year the long jump was a fresh event for me, so I focused more on that,” Taylor pointed out. “But this year I’ve been focused more on my running lately. It was definitely a fight against that wind today. I just followed what the coaches told me, to let the wind help a little around the curve, then hit my pickups down the backstretch and run my own race and not worry about what anyone else was doing. I just had to push right through. It was not an easy race.”
Evanston’s point total also received a boost in the hurdles, despite the fact that Foreman was disqualified for a false start in the 100. Sophomore Iman Musinovic took fourth in a personal best time of 17.35 in the 100, and classmate Sabine Gratch captured fifth in the 300 hurdles in 49.51.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.