One jog around the Vernon Hills course Monday told Evanston cross country star Enyaeva Michelin all she needed to know before the Central Suburban League championship meet.
“I told my teammates that today had to be about places, not about times,” said the ETHS senior.
But it turned out to be the best of both worlds for Michelin, who raced to Evanston’s first individual conference championship since 1997 and set a record on the soggy and muddy Vernon Hills course.
The CSL championship showdown was pushed back 48 hours due to weekend rains and standing water and mud were issues for all of the runners involved. But nothing could stop Michelin, who sped to a winning time of 17 minutes, 44.6 seconds on the 3-mile course and whipped runnerup Olivia Niziolek of Maine South by a comfortable 52 seconds.
Michelin matched the feat of former Kit standout Laura Schmid, who ruled the CSL South division back in 1997, and led the Wildkits to a fourth place finish overall in the team standings. New Trier placed all 5 runners in the top 10 and ran away with the team title with 35 points, followed in order by Maine South (62), Glenbrook South (65), Evanston (68), Niles West (155) and Niles North (183).
The Wildkits also counted sophomore Gabrielle Horton, 18th in 20:18.6; junior Grace Naquin, 20th in 20:25.7; junior Abby Osterlund, 21st in 20:27.4; and sophomore Eavan Norman, 25th in 20:32.1.
“It’s really cool to be the first one (from Evanston) to win in 20 years. It’s awesome!” exclaimed Michelin. “With all the mishaps Saturday because of the weather, I knew coming in that today would be about places, not times. The course was pretty brutal. Every step I was soaking in mud and we were really swimming out there.
“Last year I had to drop out of this meet (due to a bad case of shin splints), and I’m just happy and grateful to be healthy and in positive spirits. I want to be ready for the bigger competition that’s coming (starting Saturday at the Niles West Regional), so today was a little more about fun. I knew as a senior this was my last conference meet, and I’m happy it could end this way. I really wasn’t disappointed with my time, because I know I pushed myself today.”
Michelin, as she’s done all year, charged to the front and had a significant lead of 20 yards just a couple of minutes into the race.
“It’s so significant to win this championship, and I knew from Day 1 that this was going to happen for her,” said Evanston head coach Rose Ochoa. “You can tell just from her drive and her mindset. She’s an elite athlete who’s used to winning, and she won’t settle for anything else.
“She’s built her confidence from her freshman year to her senior year and there are no excuses with Enyaeva. She knows what she wants to do — and she does it. Winning the conference was important to her and today allowed her to showcase just what she’s been doing all year. There was no reason for her to back off now.”
Michelin insists that increased confidence is the only real difference for her between last year and this year. That wouldn’t seem to explain her mastery of the longest distance race for high school girls, considering that her past track success came in the 1600 and 800-meter races.
But winning a national championship at 1500 meters this past August gave her a boost that has carried over to the fall.
“My training really hasn’t changed,” she said. “The summer was a good time for me to get everything together for my senior year, and my track running helped me boost my confidence and put things in perspective for me. Confidence is a huge thing that I’ve worked on, and I’m so grateful that everything is working out for me.
“Everyone in the state is pushing hard and running well at this point and I still have a lot of work to do. Since my freshman year I’ve been star-struck running against the top girls and watching videos of them. So this year it’s weird to be in the mix with them — but it’s cool.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.