The Illinois High School Association state cross country finals are scheduled for November 9th  at Detweiller Park.

And while they might not make an impact on the team standings, Evanston’s male and female runners want to play in Peoria, just like last year’s state runnerup boys basketball team.

Coach Don Michelin Jr.’s boys team has been represented by Max Peterson and Joey Eovaldi at State the past two years, and on the girls side the streak of appearances is now at six straight years, dating back to even before head coach Rosette Ochoa took over the program.

There are miles of work ahead for both squads after they scored modest finishes at the Hinsdale Central Red Devil-Hornet Invitational on Saturday. But just like in every sport, the payoff comes if you’re performing your best at the end of the season.

Michelin Jr. doesn’t want to settle for just an individual qualifier or two, and neither do his runners, as evidenced by the body of work they put in the summer that hasn’t always been typical of Kit runners in the past.

“They want to qualify for State as a team, and they showed me that by putting in the work this summer,” Michelin Jr. said. “They want it. They want to get better and we got some really great leadership from four of our seniors this summer. Usually we only have a few stragglers who do much running (80 to 100 miles, low compared to the state’s elite runners) and that’s why in the past we’ve encouraged them to run in USTA track meets to make sure we could train them.

“But on their own they grouped up and ran at 6:30 in the morning, and now we have a core group of 11 or 12 guys who have run 350 miles. Our four captains (Peterson, Jack Rutstein, Giacomo Conde, Conor Ward) have really embraced their roles to try to be good role models and leaders for the others.”

Neither Eovaldi (157th at State) nor Peterson (35th) came into the ETHS program as running prodigies. But Eovaldi qualified through a sectional that is annually one of the toughest in the state, ending a long drought for potential qualifiers from Evanston, and Peterson scored an even bigger breakthrough last year and climaxed his season with a best time of 14 minutes, 56.31 seconds in Peoria over 3 miles.

Now Peterson is aiming even higher, especially since ETHS coaches on both the cross country and track staffs have come to an agreement that his future lies in longer races. He ran everything from the 800 to the 3200 during the spring track season and only ran on the school’s 3200-relay team in the postseason.

“I have high hopes for Max being able to crack the top 10 at State,” said Michelin Jr. “I think he can run in the low 14:40s or 14:30s.

“When Max first came in he ran 16:18 as a freshman and that was just OK. But he had a stress fracture as a sophomore, and when he came back from that (in the track season) he ran a heckuva half mile, so we figured that would be his race. But I think one of the things we figured out last season was that Max is better at longer distances. So we backed off the interval training and focused on mileage. I think he’s ready for a big year.

“Those four seniors (captains) are guys with really competitive natures and they know we have to go hard after New Trier and Maine South when we run against them head to head.”

The ETHS coach also points to promising underclassmen like freshman Declan Ahern and Luke Ng as individuals who can crack the team’s top 7, along with junior Ellis Allen and sophomore Solomon Greene.

For the Wildkit girls, the string of state qualifiers began with Kyla Steman back in 2013 and following in her footsteps all the way to Peoria were Emma Dzwierzynski (2014, 2015), Enyaeva Michelin (2016, 2017) and Abby Osterlund (2018).

Both squads opened the competitive part of the season on Saturday with 11th place finishes at Katherine Legge Park in Hinsdale.

The boys team scored 314 points in the 18-team field, with Wheaton Warrenville South claiming the team title at 46. Pacing the Wildkits were Peterson, 22nd in 15:53.8; Rutstein, 58th in 16:45; Conde, 100th in 17:21.9; senior James Moran, 101st in 17:22; and Ward, 104th in 17:23.7.

Evanston’s girls totaled 235 points led by senior Hannah Lipman (25th in 19:20), senior Gabrielle Horton (27th in 19:22), junior Hope Leman (32nd in 19:25), freshman Ella Gutierrez (82nd in 20:37), senior Ciara Connell (84th in 20:39), senior Eavan Norman (103rd in 21:01) and senior Jadyn Denlow (105th in 21:02).

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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