No senior participating in the Evanston track program wants to be a member of the ETHS team that DOESN’T win a Central Suburban League South division outdoor championship.

That’s why Ayoub El-Ashmawi had to accept the bitter with the sweet Friday night at Niles North.

El-Ashmawi broke through and scored his first individual conference championship in the 400-meter dash, only to see the Wildkits stumble and lose the team title — for just the second time in the past 12 years — by a 158-152 margin to Maine South.

On a rare night where the Wildkits had more second place finishes (8) than first place performances (4), they saw their string of consecutive team titles snapped at 4 in a row. Glenbrook South placed third with 105 points, followed in order by New Trier (98), Niles North (31) and Niles West (10).

“After looking at the heat sheets, we knew it was going to be close,” sighed veteran ETHS head coach Don  Michelin. “It could have gone either way tonight and we had a real good effort from our guys, I thought. We’ve got a target on our backs all the time and that’s something they have to get used to.

“Give credit to Maine South because they did a heckuva job. Every now and then, someone rises up in the Central Suburban League South division and knocks the king off the block. Now we’ve got to climb back up there.”

Mathematically, Evanston still had a chance going into the 200-meter dash and the 1600 relay, the last two events on the calendar. But Maine South’s Charlie Smith beat out the defending champ in the sprint — Evanston junior Sacrad Michelin — by a half second, and the Wildkits settled for second place in the 1600 relay while the Hawks ran 4th and clinched the crown.

That second place relay finish in the 1600 left El-Ashmawi an emotional wreck, because he knew his leadoff leg of 52.8 contributed to the loss.

Earlier, the senior standout turned in one of the best performances of his career, fighting off a challenge from New Trier’s Jacob Steigmann down the stretch to capture the 400 title in 50.83 seconds. Steigmann was clocked in 50.97.

El-Ashmawi earned the first conference title of his career and joined first place finishers Sacrad Michelin (100 dash) and Jamal Perrin (triple jump). The Wildkits also ruled the 800 relay, in a season best time of 1:30.63.

“It’s really an honor to be a conference champion,” the senior said. “I’m so grateful to all of the coaches who have trained me so well, and the great teammates I’ve had here who taught me so much. It’s their championship, not mine.

“My racing strategy is all about sprinting that first 300 — and surviving the last 100. I just tried to focus on giving it everything I had tonight, because what mattered most was getting those (10) team points.

“But like Coach said, we beat ourselves tonight. The leadoff leg (on the 1600 relay) is supposed to be our bread and butter, and it was my responsibility to run like a conference champion. But I didn’t do that. I’ll be back next week.”

In the 100, Michelin edged South’s Smith at the wire and clocked a winning time of 11.30, his best time in a season where he’s been plagued by a bad hip. Smith turned the tables later and edged the ETHS junior in the 200, 22.23 to 22.91.

Michelin combined with Isaac Hunter, Peter Braithwaite and J.J. Klamm to win the 800 relay in a time (1:30.63) just off the established Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard of 1:29.92.

Evanston’s other individual win came in the triple jump, where Perrin’s best effort of 42 feet, 10.5 inches dominated the field.

Scoring runnerup finishes for the Kits were junior Max Peterson, 1:58.08 in the 800 and 4:27.86 in the 1600; sophomore Kalil Johnson, 40.15 in the 300 hurdles and 15.50 in the 100 hurdles; plus the 400 (43.32) and 3200 (8:21.50) relay teams.      

Dennis Mahoney

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

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