Even on a day when the Wildkits endured some disappointment on and off the track, the Evanston boys track team still had enough quality and quantity to dominate the rest of the Central Suburban League South division for the third straight year.
Evanston repeated as outdoor champions at the annual CSL South meet hosted by Niles West Friday, piling up 7 first place finishes and 164 points overall to top a field that also included New Trier (128.5), Niles West (111), Maine South (73), Glenbrook South (40.5) and Niles North (37).
Brad Garron captured both the 200-meter and 400-meter dash titles for the second year in a row and Jonathan Wilburn won the triple jump crown for the third time in as many tries.
But the Kits couldn’t live up to the top pre-meet seed in several events, winning only the 400 relay despite rating as the team to beat in that race, the 3200 relay, the 800 relay and the 1600 relay. And in the field events, two ETHS top seeds and the respective defending meet champs — Ben Easington in the discus and Chris Nielsen in the shot put — didn’t even make the finals.
Still, veteran ETHS coach Don Michelin had no trouble seeing the glass as half full, not half empty, especially when it came to the performances of juniors Logan Singer, the first place winner in the open 800, and Wilburn.
“This is the hardest meet of the year for us, because everyone else gears up and comes after you,” Michelin said. “Yes, we had some disappointments today, but we also had some tremendous performances and we just kept plugging along as a team.
“We haven’t had a half-miler like Logan since back in the 1990s with William Artope and Kevin Richards, and he’s right there with them, if not better. And I know these other people (league foes) will be glad when Wilburn graduates, even though we have another good group of jumpers coming up.”
Singer’s winning time of 1 minute, 56.58 marked a personal best for the junior and dropped him under the Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard of 1:57:31 with the IHSA sectional looming next week on the same track. He charged to a 56 second split — faster than usual — for the first quarter mile and pulled away to win by almost 2 full seconds over runnerup Cooper Woolford of New Trier.
Call Singer a reluctant champion. He’s never eager to lead a race from the start, preferring to use come-from-behind tactics, but his ability to adjust his strategy could lead to a berth in the state finals in a couple of weeks.
“It feels good to get down to 1:56, but it also feels painful,” Singer said moments after the race. “I was starting to get a little concerned about making that state cut, but I really wanted it. That 56 was a little faster than normal for the first lap for me, but I felt like I could still have a pretty good kick left. I was pretty content with that first lap.
“Last year I tried just to run consistent splits in my races and then I’d try to catch up to the others. This year, I know I need to lead more in a race to get to the times I want. I don’t like leading too much, because I like latching onto the leaders and using my strength to kick against them. But when no one takes it out fast, you have to do it. I just wanted to run 1:57 today, so I’m very happy to get down to that 1:56.”
“Logan runs better when he runs from the front,” Michelin added. “He got caught up in a mess at the Prep Top Times meet (indoors) and couldn’t get out of a box because he didn’t go out to the lead. It was a tough lesson for him to learn, that you’ve got to get out fast and have confidence in your conditioning.”
Wilburn’s best jump since last year’s sectional meet — a leap of 46 feet, 2.5 inches — provided a confidence boost at just the right time for the junior who has been plagued by a bad hamstring and was less worried about repeating as CSL South champ than he was about just achieving one good jump.
“My entire season has been shaky before today,” said the soft-spoken Wilburn. “I had a problem with my right hamstring indoors and that set me back, and then I had another setback when I got outdoors. I just kept jumping through it, I didn’t really miss any time, but I haven’t had a good jump in a very long time. I doubted myself so much that I even switched up my start leg last week at Thornton and I was jumping off my left leg.
“I got 45 feet on my third jump today and that really got me excited for the last one (the winning effort of 46-2.5). Now, I feel like I’m back. I’m still not sure if I’m 100 percent physically, but it isn’t bothering me now. If I jump like I did today at the sectional, I absolutely feel I can qualify for State.”
Garron was nosed out by Niles West’s Andrew Mykulyanych by the smallest of margins — 10.88 to 10.89 — in the open 100, but came back to rule the 400 in 49.69 and the 200 in 21.97. He’ll likely drop out of the 100 in favor of the 1600 relay at the sectional meet, although Michelin could also use the talented senior in the 800 relay.
Garron combined with Miles Hampton, Brian Daniels and Anthony Hutchins for a winning time of 43 flat in the 400 relay. Daniels contributed a first place finish in the long jump at 21-2, and junior Trey Dawkins moved up when Nielsen faltered and topped the field in the shot put at 51-2.
Earning 2nd place finishes for ETHS were Daniels in both the 110 hurdles (15.35) and 300 hurdles (39.65), Garron in the 100, and Matt Caines in the triple jump (42-0.25).
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.