Kalil Johnson doesn’t like to lose.

And no one competed harder for Evanston’s track team Saturday at the Red Grange Invitational meet hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South.

The sophomore standout scored come-from-behind victories in the “A” flight in both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdle races and led the Wildkits to a 3rd place finish in the team standings.

Despite missing key relay runners Sacrad Michelin and J.J. Klamm with injuries, coach Don Michelin’s squad scored 150 points and trailed only Batavia (186) and Wheaton South (151) in the 16-team field. The meet format allowed each school a total of 3 entries per individual event, with competitions held separately in the A, B and C flights.

Johnson’s breakout performance featured winning times of 15.16 in the 110 hurdles and 40.12 in the 300, remarkable efforts considering that 20 mile-per-hour headwinds prevented runners from turning in even quicker times.

He also contributed a 3rd place finish in the C 100-dash,  in 12.26, after accounting for two of Evanston’s six overall first-place performances. Also claiming wins were Aaron Hutchins, 16.40 in the B 110 hurdles and 43.15 in the C 300 hurdles; Sebastian Cheeks, 16.04 in the C 110 hurdles; and Quentin Ivory with a best toss of 43 feet, 8 inches in the C shot put.

Johnson has already run faster than the Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard in the high hurdles and his personal best time in the longer race Saturday is just off the mark (39.84) in that grueling race.

ETHS coach Don Michelin said the sky’s the limit for his young hurdle crew this spring.

“Coach Caines (assistant coach Kevin Caines) is a great hurdle coach and he’s done a great job with these young guys,” Michelin praised. “Our practices are just unbelievable. Cheeks is right on Hutchins’ tail and these guys are really fighting for their spots. Every week is really rigorous for them and I really take my hat off to those kids. We’re fortunate to have kids like that is such a technique event.

“When it got tough for Kalil today, he got tougher — and that’s what you look for as a coach. He’s been consistent all year for us. He listens well and he processes what you tell him. He and Coach Caines are always watching videos to help him get better.”

“I really wanted to get to 36 (seconds) in the 300, and I hope to do that by the end of the high school season,” said a confident Johnson. “Today was all about just making the commitment and not giving up, because I really wanted that first place. I had to fight through in both races today and I’m not used to being behind. I usually lead from the start and that’s the first time someone has passed me like that. I wanted more after winning the 110s. I’m a person who likes to compete and I didn’t underestimate my own stamina today. I wanted to go bigger today — and I did it.

“I’m not really all that surprised I did so well today. All the work I’ve been doing in practice shows on the track now. I really wanted this and in order to do it, I know I have to work hard. Today I came in with a different mindset. I wanted to do something I never did before.”

The unrelenting northerly wind kept Johnson from posting a better time, but he has lowered his best time in the 300 from 47 seconds plus last year to Saturday’s 41-second effort. That dramatic drop — and if more improvement follows — could make him a postseason threat next month.

Also scoring top finishes for the Wildkits at Saturday’s prestigious meet were Ayoub El-
Ashmawi, 2nd in the B high jump (5-7) and 3rd in the A 400 (51.65); Julion Michelin, 2nd in the B 800 (2:04.02); Giacomo Conde, 2nd in the C 800 (2:05.74); Peter Braithwaite, 3rd in the B 100 (11.91);  and the 1600 relay team of El-Ashmawi, Michelin, Hutchins and Max Peterson, 2nd in 3:29.60.

“This is always a tough meet, and sometimes things go your way a little better than other times,” Michelin pointed out. “When you compete here, you see what you need to do and where you need to plug some holes.

“Today you saw some uneven performances. We were up and down, up and down. You find out which kids can dig deep down and pull something out — like Kalil did today.”   

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

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