CHARLESTON — Enyaeva Michelin completed her climb to the pinnacle of Illinois high school distance running here Saturday with two more record performances on the blue oval track at Eastern Illinois University.
What else would you expect from the best distance runner in the history of the Evanston girls program?
Michelin captured the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state championship in the 800-meter run and earned 2nd place behind Glenbard West sophomore star Katelynne Hart in the most epic 1600-meter battle in the history of the state finals.
Michelin’s display of guts and stamina also included anchoring the 1600 relay team to a 6th place finish, combining with freshman Gabriella Calixte and sophomores Asia Eddy and Gabrielle Horton in a final effort to boost the Wildkits in the team standings. Evanston tied Danville for 8th place in the team competition with 22 points, marking the 34th time in 44 years that the Kits have placed in the top 10. That’s more than any other program in the state of Illinois.
The ETHS senior’s times in both races — 2:08.44 in the 800 and 4:48.18 in the 1600 — lowered her own school marks for the last time in a record-shattering season for a runner who started her running career only after she couldn’t make the school’s Pomkits team as a freshman.
She wound up one of the most improved runners in the country from that point until Saturday, set school records in three different events, and left an indelible stamp on the Evanston program with her leadership, work ethic and drive to succeed.
Michelin is the first ETHS runner ever to win a state title in the 800 and the school’s first individual state champ since Parker English ruled the 200 and 400 in 2014.
“What Enyaeva accomplished today is right up there with Robert McGee’s crazy four events and Shalina Clarke and some of the others,” said Evanston head coach Fenton Gunter. “I think she benefited from some of the past experiences from both the boys and girls programs.
“We shared those experiences with her so she would know she’s not the first — not the last — just the latest to do these things, and that if we didn’t think she could handle it, we wouldn’t have done it. She didn’t walk into the program as one of those phenoms, but like so many of the other girls she fought and hung in there and wound up on top in the last meet of her career. She learned to be patient and to trust the system.
“Coach (Jesse) Sibert did a great job working with her. We knew that she had potential, it was just a matter of if she’d reach that potential, and thankfully she did. She proved that if you just listen, then anything is possible. She was patient today even though she didn’t hold anything back (to conserve energy in later races). We told her just be you — that’s what got you here.”
“I’m speechless right now. Today was super exciting for me because I hit most of my goals,” Michelin said. “I remember watching from the 800 from the stands when I was a freshman and a sophomore and how much those races inspired me. It’s truly an honor to win a state championship.
“I knew there were a lot of talented girls in the 800 so there was no holding back in that race.”
Michelin, as she usually does, turned the half-mile into a sprint right from the start and never allowed anyone to challenge her with a wire-to-wire victory. She finished almost 2 seconds ahead of runnerup Maddie Marasco of Schaumburg and was just shy of the state record of 2:07.05 by Courtney Clayton of Rockton Hononegah in 2013.
Both races by Michelin produced times that rank in the top 10 in the country on performance lists. Hart (4 minutes, 47.36 seconds) and Michelin (4:48.18) went shoulder-to-shoulder for the entire race in the 1600, breaking the big school record of 4:49.34 established by Crete-Monee’s Shelly McBride way back in 1985.
The ETHS senior never could get ahead of Hart, who completed another sweep of the distance races —- she also won the 3200 without breaking a sweat — and hasn’t lost yet at the state finals in either cross country or track.
“Katelynne Hart is super-talented and I knew if I could stay on her as long as I could, I’d get a PR (personal record),” Michelin said. “We both ran a really consistent race, and there weren’t too many surges in there. I felt like I ran a smart race and we both just ran under control.
“I think the choice of races (she considered running the 3200 instead of one of the shorter open races) went smoothly and I had just enough rest in between races today. I like having good competition and competition like I saw today really pushes me. I’m not used to running the mile with anyone else around.”
The University of North Carolina recruit couldn’t manage to pull the Wildkits any closer in the final race of the day, the 1600 relay, as they settled for 6th place in time (3:55.89) that was still almost 2 seconds quicker than Friday’s preliminary clocking of 3:57.81. Calixte and Eddy kept the Wildkits in contention over the first half of the race and showed they’ll be able to deal with the heady atmosphere of the state finals when they return in the future.
Evanston fell short of qualifying out of the prelims Friday in the 4 x 800, 4 x100 and 4 x200 relays and junior triple jumper Sasha Gordon could only muster a non-qualifying effort of 35-feet even. But 8 of those 9 runners participating on the relays will return next year, as Michelin was the only senior to share in the postseason experience.
Calixte showed in the past month that she could develop into a dominant sprinter by the time she graduates and knows that her first trip to the IHSA finals will pay dividends down the road.
“Today made me excited for what’s to come,” said the freshman sprinter. “I feel like I could have done better, but it was really fun to be part of this. Coach just told me to stay calm and focus only on my race. And it really helped having Asia as my dorm partner to help calm me down, because I was totally freaking out last night because I thought I ran terrible (in the prelims).”
“We had a rough day yesterday, but a lot of our kids got their first taste of being here,” Gunter pointed out. “I told them to keep their heads up and learn and understand how to get down here and succeed next year. I thought the whole team did a tremendous job.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.