Tauja Foreman started her state track medal collection Saturday at the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state finals at Eastern Illinois University with a pair of 9th place finishes, in the 100-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles.
Odds are those won’t be the last medals the Evanston junior brings back from Charleston before she graduates next spring.
Foreman and teammate Hailey Taylor — 10th in the long jump — ended their Cinderella seasons on a high note by advancing to join the state’s elite on the final day in events they just started competing in this spring. And Foreman’s pair of 9th place finishes earned ETHS a total of 2 points in the team standings, enough to extend the program’s amazing streak of having scored in every single large-school state finals since the state competition first began for girls back in 1974.
No other school in the state of Illinois can match that streak.
“We’d have scored some major points if Tauja hadn’t fallen in the 100 hurdles,” pointed out ETHS head coach Fenton Gunter. “We didn’t want that streak to end this year, and we told them that when we got down there. All of the other teams at the top — East St. Louis, Morgan Park, Springfield Southeast — in the past have eventually bottomed out and not scored at State. We made it one more year today.
“We put the old school Evanston uniforms (throwback jerseys from the 1990s) on them Saturday and told Tauja and Hailey it’s your turn now. Just to make it to Saturday (out of Friday’s preliminary qualifying) was outstanding. I wasn’t surprised they made it. I knew Hailey could make it in the long jump and thought Tauja had a shot in the short hurdles if she ran a clean race. They just dug down deep and made up their minds to perform the best that they could.”
Foreman turned in career best times in both the 100 hurdles (14.84 seconds) and 300 hurdles (45.73) on Friday to keep her season alive. To date the short hurdle race has been her best, and she squeezed into the finals in the longer race when a runner from East St. Louis hit the last hurdle in the final heat and missed out by 3-4ths of a second.
She wasn’t able to match those performances on Saturday. She hit the 2nd hurdle in the 100 finals, sprawled on her back and got back up to finish last. In the 300, she was clocked in 46.33 in a race won by Savannah Long of DeKalb in 43.34.
“If she didn’t hit that hurdle, I think she had a shot at finishing 4th or 5th,” said Gunter. “And even though she went down, she still had enough sense to get up and finish. And in the last race she ran tough for the first 6 hurdles, she just couldn’t hold the other girls off. She did a great job.”
“I did better on Friday than I did on Saturday, but it was really satisfying for me,” added Foreman. “I was so surprised to make it to the finals in the 100, and when I found out and went back to the fieldhouse (to warm up) I just had to hold it all in while I prepared for the 300.
“It was so significant for me when Coach Gunter gave me that jersey. I didn’t feel worthy of wearing it, and I knew I had to represent Evanston well. I wanted to score some points for the team and keep that tradition going. After I fell, coming back was very hard — but I just had to do it. This is something I can build on now for next year. My goal is to make it to the finals again next year — and move on up.”
Taylor’s best jump of the two-day meet actually came on Friday, when she registered a leap of 17 feet, 6.25 inches. She lost out on the medals that are awarded to the top 9 finishers by less than an inch on her way to a 10th place finish.
“Not getting a medal will make me more hungry for it next year,” said the ETHS junior. “It was amazing just to make it to the finals because this is my first year jumping. And making it to Saturday was even better. Now next year I can come back — and go out with a bang!”
Taylor said her Saturday performances (her best was 17-1) weren’t quite up to par “ because I was focused too much on just trying to hit the (takeoff) board.
“I was iffy coming down to State about how I’d do, but I relied on my training and hoped what the coaches had taught me would pay off. Being able to come down and compete here was great. It was a dream come true for me. Now I’m excited to see how far I can go next season. There are a lot of things I can work on with my technique, like establishing a better foundation and getting more height. Next year I can come back — and go out with a bang!”
Evanston’s three qualifiers — sophomore Noni Shelton was eliminated in the triple jump prelims Friday with a best of 33-5.75 — will provide the core for next year’s team and Gunter is excited about building the Wildkits back into a contender at the state level next year.
“I think Tauja and Hailey are really ready to shine next year,” said the veteran coach. “They’ll compete at a high level this summer and they’ll both be a force to be reckoned with. The experience of getting to State is everything. We just wanted to get their feet wet this year. You don’t want them there for the first time as seniors, so you won’t have the nerves and you won’t make the mistakes you usually make the first time you’re down there. Now they’ll have a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.
“For Tauja, the difference has been like night and day from where she started. Consider her limits in the long hurdles this year, because her shins are so bad she couldn’t really train for that race. She just runs on heart. I don’t think we’ve ever had a girl as quick as her in the short hurdles the first year she ran it, and what she’s accomplished is just outstanding. She has all the potential in the world to be another one of our great hurdlers.
“She’ll still train for the 300 hurdles, but we might run her in relays instead next year. We’ll see if we can put enough girls together with the good group of incoming freshmen next year to put some good relays together.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.