Evanston’s young girls track team laid the foundation for the return to dynasty status in the program in a couple of years at Thursday’s Class 3A Illinois High School Association Niles West Sectional qualifying meet.
But for Enyaeva Michelin, the future is now.
Michelin captured first place finishes in both the 800-meter and 1600-meter run and led ETHS to a second place finish in the team standings while establishing herself as a state title threat in both races at next weekend’s IHSA state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
The Wildkits also advanced all 4 relay teams and triple jumper Sasha Gordon while piling up 81 points and trailing only New Trier (100.5) in the 14-team field.
Michelin and Cyndji Dieujuste (5th in the 400) were the only seniors to score points in a postseason lineup dominated by sophomores for head coach Fenton Gunter. Most of them were competing in the first sectional of their careers — and most of them rose to the occasion.
“As young as we are, the bulk of them are learning on the fly and it’s very rewarding that so many of them will get the opportunity to continue for one more week,” Gunter said. “They’ve all worked so hard for this, and now they can see the fruits of their labors.
“Today was good experience for the distance runners and they were all very competitive in their races. They showed great effort and they’re still learning about being competitive. They’re a very dedicated and very hungry group of girls who have made us a better squad this year.”
Coaches of distance runners from every school entered scrambled to find out which races the ETHS coaching staff finally settled on for Michelin, who skipped the 3200 to focus on the 800, 1600 and 4 x 400 relay.
Michelin won the 800 in a school record time of 2 minutes, 9.16 seconds — two seconds quicker than her old mark of 2:11.33 — and a full 9 seconds faster than the time she turned in at last year’s sectional meet.
She came back to rule the 1600 in 4:52.95 and still had enough stamina left to anchor the 1600 relay team to victory with a split of 58.75.
“I think the best decision about Enyaeva was to put her in the mile relay because she helped 3 more of our girls (Asia Eddy, Gabriella Calixte, Gabrielle Horton) get to State,” Gunter said after the foursome won with a season best time of 3:56.41. “We wanted to keep her off that relay this year. But even though we looked at some other girls (and lost Drew Patterson to a leg injury) in different orders, we were still running the same times the past 3 weeks and we weren’t dropping. We wanted to put our best four girls on the track today.
“Enyaeva won’t come off that relay at State. That will be the sacrifice that she makes for the team, and we’ll make sure the other girls know what she gave up by doing that.”
“We all did the job today and survived for one more week,” Michelin said. “That’s all we can ask for at this point. For me, the best part was watching the 4 x 800 team qualify. I was more nervous about that than anything else today. And I was really happy that we were all able to run the way we needed to run in that 4 x 400, too.”
Following assistant coach Jesse Sibert’s advice — “I didn’t want her to go out and do anything crazy in that 1600” — Michelin whipped runnerup Olivia Niziolek by a 50-yard margin in a comfortable (for her, anyway) 4:52.95. That’s the fastest 3A time turned in by any sectional champ Thursday, including Glenbard West’s Katelynne Hart (4:54.41).
“I went out and tried to run that 1600 relaxed,” said the Evanston senior. “It felt pretty smooth.
“I was a little upset about not being able to run the 3200, but the coaches know best. I started off my career running the 800 and I didn’t want to ‘jump ship’ at this point. There will be great competition in every single event at State and the name of the game today was just to qualify. No matter what happens next week, I just want to leave knowing I gave it everything I have.”
New Trier nosed out the Wildkits for top honors in the 3200 relay, by a margin of 9:29.57 to 9:30.16. But the foursome of Horton, Mia Dzwierzynski, Hannah Lipman and Abigail Osterlund chopped a whopping 35 seconds off their seed time , with both leadoff runner Dzwierzynski and anchor Lipman turning in splits in the 2:19s.
That second place finish earned automatic advancement and that clocking was just three seconds off the school record of 9:27.23 set back in 1987. Now, the quartet can take aim on taking that record down.
“Those girls are all gamers,” Gunter praised. “Mia’s split was a PR (personal record) and Hannah toughed it out even though she had a bad headache and wasn’t 100 percent. And Abby has been out for the last 3 weeks with an injury, but managed to come back and get in a week of practice to get ready for today.”
The Kits also scored runnerup finishes in both the 400 and 800 relays. In the 400, the team of Chassa Pratt, Ariel Logan, Maia Hadaway and Calixte ran 49.79 to champ Highland Park’s 48.76, and in the 800 the unit of Pratt, Calixte, Eddy and Hadaway clicked on every handoff on their way to a solid time of 1:43.72. They trailed only Loyola’s 1:42.93.
“It was nice to finally get a time drop there, and we went from 1:45 to a 1:42,” Gunter noted. “We had good exchanges for the first time all year.”
Evanston’s other individual qualifier was Gordon, a junior who has had to play through the pain like most triple jumpers. Gordon overcame a case of shin splints and tendinitis in her knees to place second in the triple jump at 35 feet, 9.5 inches, just a couple of inches off her personal best.
She wasn’t satisfied because she didn’t reach the IHSA minimum qualifying standard of 36-0 in the event, but stayed alive to try again next week in Charleston.
“It feels really good because I’ve been working hard at it, but I know my job’s not done yet,” said Gordon. “I got that (second place) jump in the prelims. I try not to hear it when they call out the numbers because it can be either encouraging or discouraging, and I don’t want to deal with the bad side of things. I’m more focused on getting the distance I need and on what I had to do, not on what the others were doing.
“I have tendinitis in my right knee and I’ve had some pain in my left knee that I’ve been trying to brush off for the last two weeks. I also have shin splints, but those are pretty much inevitable when you’re a jumper. Because of that, I’ve had to adjust my workouts some and I haven’t been able to do as much as I’ve wanted to.
“Right now I’m surprised and I’m excited. I knew I had to right training to qualify, I just had to get right mentally.”
Also scoring top 6 (although non-qualifying) finishes for ETHS were Eddy, 4th in the long jump at 17 feet, 3.5 inches; sophomore Alliyah Jones, 4th in the triple jump at 35-2.5; junior Iman Musinovic, 4th in the 100 hurdles in 16.53 and 5th in the 300 hurdles in 49.30; junior Sabine Gratch, 6th in the 100 hurdles in 16.99; sophomore Eavan Norman, 6th in the 3200 in 12:04.86; and Pratt, 6th in the 200 in 26.79.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.