Like all of the other girls competing in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state cross country finals, Enyaeva Michelin wants to save her best race for last on Saturday afternoon at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.

And if the Evanston senior is at her best, she’ll be on the short list of contenders for the individual state championship.

Michelin suffered her second loss of the season — both of them coming against defending state champion Katelynne Hart of Glenbard West — at last Saturday’s Lake Park Sectional meet, but easily qualified with a time of 16 minutes, 54 seconds that earned runnerup honors behind Hart’s winning time of 16:28.

Michelin qualified for the second straight year as an individual, but ETHS fell short in its bid to advance as a team with an 7th place finish. The Wildkits totaled 239 points and trailed automatic team qualifiers Wheaton Warrenville South (51), Glenbard West (73), New Trier (79) and Maine South (210) in the 12-team field.

The Wildkits placed all 7 runners under 20 minutes on the 3 mile course — the first time that’s happened all season. Next best for Evanston were junior Grace Naquin, 52nd in 19:09; junior Abby Osterlund, 58th in 19:11; sophomore Gabby Horton, 60th in 19:12; sophomore Eavan Norman, 74th in 19:22; sophomore Hannah Lipman, 92nd in 19:48; and senior Zoe Hadley, 93rd in 19:49.

“We had a chance as a team — we just didn’t quite make it,” said ETHS head coach Rosette Ochoa. “This is such a good group of girls to work with, and they want it so bad. They’re already talking about what they need to do for next year. I’m hoping next year they’ll carry over that pack mentality. We have some incoming freshmen who have talent, too, and I think we should be stacked with talent and with desire.

“It’s also an honor for me as a coach to be part of the journey that Enyaeva’s on. At the sectional I just wanted her to go out with the Glenbard West girl and see what happens, just follow her game plan. The sectional is a good test run, but the ultimate is in Peoria. That’s where you really want to shine.”

Hart won the state cross country title as a freshman, and then led the Hilltoppers to the state track championship as a team in the spring by winning both the 3200-meter and 1600-meter races. That’s a pretty impressive resume for someone in just her second year of high school competition.

But Michelin’s losses to Hart in head-to-head races have been a learning experience for the ETHS standout. Hart beat her out by 24 seconds at the season-opening Hinsdale South Invitational, but that was really the first time Michelin realized that she had taken the next step and had joined the list of elite runners in the state of Illinois.

“I went out with her Saturday and ran with her for about the first half of the race,” Michelin pointed out. “I didn’t run like that against her the first time. I followed my game plan pretty well and I was pretty satisfied that I got a good split (5:19) for the first mile. I dropped off a little after that, but I broke 17 minutes — that was my goal — and I ran a pretty solid race.

“She’s a special runner and she goes right out front when the gun goes off. The first time I ran against her I played it safe and stayed back in the pack to chase her. Now, I know I can run with her. There are a lot of girls in the game (state contenders) at this point and there were a lot of good times coming out of the sectionals.

“I think no matter how good you are, everyone is beatable. She’s an awesome runner, but  I’m sure if you asked her, she’d say the same thing. I’ll be happy Saturday just as long as I go down there and run my best race. My goal is to just stay relaxed and look at it like every other race.”

Ochoa expects something special from Michelin in Peoria but isn’t going to put any pressure on the senior standout with talk of place expectations. The best finish in school history was a 10th place effort by Stephanie Goodrich back in 1991. Goodrich also placed 18th in 1990. Evanston’s other state medalists have been Amy Simon, 13th in 1980, and Kathy McCray, 24th in 1979.

“Enyaeva’s love of competing and love of the sport are what drove her to do the little things to make her a great athlete,” Ochoa praised. “You can see her passion. She wasn’t satisified with the season she had last year and I’m not surprised at all at the success she’s had this year. I knew she’d do whatever she needed to do to become No. 1. There’s been such a huge change in her from her freshman year to now, and she’s become such a nice role model for our other athletes to see.

“I would definitely like to see her run a strong race Saturday and maybe get a PR (personal record). I think there will be a tight group up at the front. I’ll be happy if she gets out there and finishes up knowing she left it all on empty. That’s all you can ask of any runner. I’ve seen her drive and I know she’ll fight right until the end.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

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

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