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Rosette Ochoa helped re-establish a winning culture when she joined the Evanston girls cross country staff as an assistant coach 5 years ago.

“Now I just want to keep the momentum going,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa will get that opportunity after she was named head coach at the May 16 meeting of the District 202 Board of Education. She’ll succeed Zachary Herrmann, who left to pursue his academic studies.

Ochoa will welcome back 5 of Evanston’s top 7 runners from last fall, when the Wildkits placed third in the Central Suburban League South division and qualified for the sectional as a team.

The Kits also had their first individual state qualifier since the 2007 season, senior Kyla Steman, who went on to score a 91st place finish at the Illinois High School Association state finals.

Steman was only the fourth ETHS female runner to qualify for State since the year 2000, as the Kits continued their climb as a program after winning 5 conference titles from 1992 to 2000. They also won IHSA regionals in 1999 and 2000.

“Coach Ochoa will do an outstanding job continuing the forward movement of the girls cross country program,” said Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino. “She has a great rapport with our girls, and a strong vision for where and how she wants the program to develop. Girls cross country programs have always worked hard at building a sense of community, and Rosette believes that while caring for each other and developing a family structure, the girls can thrive, and learn to compete and succeed.”

Under Herrmann’s leadership, the emphasis on a “family” culture produced a turnout of more than 100 runners last fall and Ochoa was part of that support staff.

Now she’ll attempt to build a state-level program while still recognizing that the teenage girls can thrive even if they don’t crack the top 7 in the varsity lineup.

The 33-year-old Ochoa learned first-hand just how important and welcoming a family structure can be. She competed as a runner for three different high schools herself — including Good Counsel and Niles West — before earning her teaching degree at Loyola University. She teaches chemistry at ETHS and she also knows how important chemistry can be within the team concept.

“Competing in cross country at 3 different high schools meant that I could find girls who had similar interests,” Ochoa said. “I learned to love running because of that. I got to meet and connect with a lot of great people. It meant a lot to me.

“One of the reasons I love the sport is because, by the end of the season, a lot of the girls get into the kind of physical shape they didn’t think was possible for them. Some of our JV runners are already at the point where they’re doing 100 push-ups now, when they couldn’t do 20 at the start of the season. They’re really excited about the physical aspects of the sport.

“There are no short-cuts in this sport. Our girls have the goal and the vision of wanting to go to State. Seeing Kyla make it last year made a lot of them hungry to go as a team. That’s their incentive to step up next year.”

Top returnees from last fall’s squad figure to be Emma Dwierzynski, Camilla Zecker, Gabrielle Dinsmore, Sophie Hawkins and Hunter Wortmann. Dwierzynski placed 12th in the CSL South division conference meet as a freshman and there’s plenty of potential everywhere Ochoa turns.

“We’re still a young team and we have a lot to look forward to,” Ochoa said. “When you run, you have to put a lot of heart and soul into it. We all feel the pain — we have that in common. A lot of the girls carbo-load together, they ride the buses together, and we have a sleepover at the beginning of the year. All of that stuff seems to come natural for cross country runners. But I’d like our girls to get to know each other a little better still. And I definitely want to increase our numbers.

“We’re so young and so talented, I think we’re going to go far. I’m looking for this team to make it to State. We always have a tough sectional to get through, but I think we’ve built the foundation to keep improving as a team.

“I didn’t expect to be a head coach this soon. I was very happy to be an assistant coach and learn new things every year here. But I became a high school teacher because I wanted to coach, so it definitely was a goal of mine.”

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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