Veteran Evanston head coach Don Michelin knows that any high school track team is just an injury or two away from a forgettable season, and there’s no such thing as too much depth.
A lack of depth at some spots is still cause for concern as the indoor season draws to a close for the Wildkits. But there’s plenty of depth in one key area — the weight events — now because ETHS football players have come to the conclusion that participation in more than one sport has helped them all grow stronger.
A rare 1-2 finish by Jonathan Connerly-Bey and Christian Nielsen in the shot put helped the Wildkits strike a balance between the field events and track events Friday night on their way to a repeat title at the Dan Phillips Invitational meet at the Evanston fieldhouse.
ETHS ruled the invite for the 9th year in a row by piling up 74 points to 51.5 for runnerup Chicago Morgan Park in the 11-team field. Following in order after that were Bloom (50), Loyola Academy (39), Proviso East (27.5), Zion-Benton (21), New Trier (18.5), Whitney Young (9), Thornton (5.5), Leo (4) and Waukegan (3).
Both Connerly-Bey (50 feet, 4.25 inches) and Nielsen (49-11.5) achieved personal bests, no real surprise considering the daily competition in practice from a group that also includes Morgan Brown and sophomore Trey Dawkins. All four players were also starters for the ETHS football squad in the fall.
Connerly-Bey is the first one to crack the 50-foot barrier — but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the first one to get to 55 feet.
“It feels really good to get to 50,” said Connerly-Bey. “I’ve been really close to it in practice all year, and getting there is like a big old weight off my shoulders.
“Last year I was throwing 46-47, and at the sectional I threw 48 but I fouled. That really pushed me because I knew I was getting close. I have some great coaches in Coach G (George Woolridge) and Coach (Vernard) Harris and I think this year I’m taking in what they say a lot better. I just try to stay focused on what they tell me.
“All of the throwers are close, and we have each other’s backs. We’ll always be competitive with each other and we always try to push each other to the limit. We argue sometimes — but we always get back to being cool with each other. I think you saw me rooting for Christian on his last throw.”
Woolridge, a long-time assistant coach in the program, has endured some off-years when it came to the program’s success in the shot and discus (outdoors) and definitely appreciates the depth he sees on a daily basis.
“We have a lot of in-house competition — some of them are not even a foot apart — and I think they thrive off of each other,” said the ETHS assistant. “I’d love to have all three of them at 50 feet this year and I think Dawkins looks like he could be a 60-footer by the time he graduates. Every year (weight power) Lake Park seems to have two guys in the shot and two in the discus at State, and that’s our goal. They’re all such hard workers and we have a lot of depth all the way down the line.”
For years ETHS football players — at least the big men — didn’t come out for track but Woolridge saw a reversal of that trend back in 2011, when throwers Justin Bishop and Zach Husain decided to recruit members of the grid team on their own.
“They told the other guys if you want to be a great football player, you’ve gotta come out for track and lift (weights) and throw the shot,” Woolridge pointed out. “They’re the ones who started it. For the last couple of years I’ve gone out and talked to the freshmen and sophomore (football) teams. In the past, even the strongest players on the team weren’t telling the others just how they got there until Justin and Zach showed them.
“We’ve had some lean years in my 30 years here, but every time I think about retiring, another good one comes along. When I see Dawkins (44 feet so far) throw I think, I’ve got to stay around for this one. He’s very teachable and very athletic, and I think he’s going to be a good one.”
“It all starts with good field coaches, ” said Michelin. “We’ve got Coach Woolridge in the throws and Coach Harris in the jumps and they’re two of the best. They don’t say it to me, but I know they want to bring their share of points to the table for us.
“Last year at the state meet we ‘won’ the meet on the track — but it’s track and field, not just track. It’s hard to find that kind of balance, but right now we’re a tougher team than we were last year at this point.”
On the track, senior Roland Amarteifio showed the way with victories in both the 55-meter low hurdles (7.48 seconds) and 55-meter high hurdles (7.67). He also teamed up with Brad Garron, B.J. Bamgbose and Brian Daniels for a winning time of 1:34.27 in the 800 relay, and sent the 1600 relay on its way to victory with a leadoff leg of 52.87. Garron, Bamgbose and Daniels finished off that triumph as the Wildkits beat out runnerup New Trier by a whopping five seconds.
Evanston also counted runnerup finishes from Bamgbose in the high hurdles, the varsity sprint medley relay team and the frosh-soph 800 relay unit. Daniels contributed a 3rd place finish in the long jump with a best distance of 20-6, and sophomore Jonathan Wilburn earned 3rd in the triple jump with a 42-7 effort.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.