Enyaeva Michelin did it all alone, with no one else to push her to another level on the track.
The Evanston senior became the first female runner in school history to break the 5-minute barrier in the 1600-meter race Saturday at the 23rd annual Lady Panther Invitational indoor track meet hosted by Proviso West.
Clocked in a winning time of 4 minutes, 59.10 seconds, Michelin simultaneously wiped out the previous ETHS indoor record (5:11.84 by Michelin at the same meet last year ) and outdoor record (5:02.2 by Amy Simon back in 1981) while finishing Saturday’s race a whopping 33 seconds ahead of the runnerup, Chloe Connolly of Glenbard West.
No matter what distance she competes at, Michelin has shown the knack for running such a steady pace that it doesn’t seem to matter whether there’s any competition for the senior standout in a given race. She’s becoming used to running alone, whether it’s the 3-mile distance where she finished 2nd at the Illinois High School Association state cross country finals; the 1600, a race she’s still learning how to run; or the 800, where she placed 7th at last year’s outdoor state meet.
Saturday, she led Evanston to a tie for 8th place in the team standings with 26 points. Evanston only entered a handful of events in the varsity competition, but did win the freshman-sophomore team title by outscoring East St. Louis Senior 114-108.
Michelin dashed to the lead right from the start and only faltered slightly when it came to turning in even splits over the course of the 8-lap race. Only the sport’s elite distance runners can turn in record times like that when the outcome of a race has already long been decided.
“I know it sounds bad, but for me I usually try to use the other runners to help me move forward and hit those consistent splits,” Michelin said. “Today I went out a little on the faster side for the first couple of laps, so some of my splits in the middle were a little high. That was a little rough. But mostly my past two races have been smooth and even, so I’m happy about that.
“It’s awesome get that that (indoor) record again, because I got it here last year. I’m really excited that things are going so well for me this early in the season. I’m trying to run relaxed and not putting too much stress on myself, but I’m really excited to make the drops I’m making.”
Michelin knew she’d accomplished something special just by the thumbs-up sign that the ailing ETHS distance coach, Jesse Sibert, gave from the stands after her winning performance. Sibert was hospitalized for heart issues last week and won’t return to actively coaching again until his condition improves.
“Without Coach Sibert, it was a little discouraging and a little sad at first in practice,” Michelin said. “He’s such a great coach and we’re just glad that he’s OK now. I think we’ve all learned to be a little stronger and a little more independent without him around, but it really makes you appreciate him, too. And now that I’m under 5 minutes, I’d like to stay there.”
Wildkit head coach Fenny Gunter wasn’t surprised to see Michelin go under 5 minutes by herself, crediting Sibert with building the foundation for Saturday’s record effort in daily practice workouts.
“Coach Sibert has her running against rabbits (teammates) in practice two days a week to pace her in workouts, so her races should really feel just like practices,” Gunter pointed out. “You just have to keep hitting certain splits like you do in practice. Of course, it’s a little harder when you’re doing it all by yourself. She’s had an abundance of help in practice from the other distance girls. They all get in there and try to help her out to maintain her splits.
“Last week Enyaeva ran a 5:04 by herself and she fell off (the desired pace) in the 5th and 6th laps, then busted it over the last two. She ran nice and comfortable today, she cleaned some things up, and she still had something left in the tank. She just has to continue to run smart and stay on her splits, and that will take care of everything else.”
While Michelin was reaffirming her dominance in the longer races, sophomore Gabrielle Horton showed her competitive spirit and scored Evanston’s only other varsity win with a time of 2:21.84 in the 800-meter race. Horton held off two competitiors who figure to win up as challengers for top honors at the outdoor state meet, runnerup Shaheeda Dade of Chicago Lindblom (2:22.24) and Shonjahnea Griggs of East St. Louis.
Horton fought off a challenge from Dade, the No. 1 seed for the race, around the final turn and scored a personal best by almost 3 full seconds.
The younger sister of the school’s outdoor record holder over that same distance, Jahnell Horton, Gabrielle Horton was steered away from the open 800 all last year, usually entering the 4 x 800 relay or the open 400 in moves dictated by the ETHS coaching staff — and not always fully appreciated by Horton.
“I only ran one open 800 last year outdoors because the coaches didn’t want to put more pressure on me,” Horton said. “I know I complained a lot last year about going back and forth between Coach Sibert (distance workouts) and Coach Gunter (sprint workouts) every week. I thought my training was really inconsistent.
“I ran a 2:24 in the 800 over the summer and I really like the 800 because it’s such a competitive race, and it gives you a chance to catch people if you get behind, not like the 400. Today was my first open half indoors and I wanted to run it for Coach Sibert. I hope the faster I run, the faster he’ll be back.
“I knew I’d face great competition today. I got tripped up a little on the 3rd lap and I almost fell because she (Dade) was running too close behind me. When she came up on me again, I just went all out on the last straightaway.”
“Gabby has a lot of ability and we still haven’t seen what we want to see from her. But she took a great step forward today,” Gunter praised. “She’s still learning how to step it up and do her job.
“We’ve had so many siblings — cousins, aunts, sisters, even daughters — come through the program and it’s hard for those girls because a lot of times they think they have to live up to those expectations. Most of the time, that doesn’t happen. You can take what the older ones do as motivation but you can still be you. We don’t want them to put even more of a burden on themselves, and that’s why Gabby didn’t run the open 800 last year.”
Also contributing top varsity finishes Saturday for the Kits were Abby Osterlund, 4th in the 800 in 2:26.07, and Sasha Gordon, 5th in the triple jump with a best effort of 33 feet, 11.75 inches.
The Wildkits set 3 meet records on the frosh-soph level and registered 6 first-place finishes overall.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.