Enyaeva Michelin claimed her third school record Saturday at the 3rd annual Eastlake Invitational meet at Hanson Stadium and now owns a trifecta — at 800 meters, 1600 meters and 3200 meters — of distance marks on the track for Evanston’s girls.
But Michelin’s impact on the ETHS program might be even greater in her role as a recruiter that helped revive a dormant aspect of an otherwise formidable program. The senior standout’s recruiting pitch helped convince the younger runners on the cross country squad to cross over to track and field in the spring, instead of competing in sports like soccer instead.
Michelin’s winning effort of 10 minutes, 24.68 seconds in the 3200 broke Amy Simon’s 1981 mark of 10:40.3 and sparked an Evanston sweep of the distance races, including the 800, 1600 and 3200 relay. The Wildkits earned a second place finish to East St. Louis Senior in the team standings, by a margin of 167 to 130 in the 11-team field.
Head coach Fenton Gunter has built one of the state’s best high school programs around sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers, but there have been years where the Wildkits haven’t even entered runners in races like the 3200 for postseason competition. And rarely has there been more than one top-level competitor in the distances at a time on the varsity squad.
None of the current distance hopefuls are in Michelin’s class — yet. But a young and hungry stable of runners led by sophomore Gabrielle Horton, junior Abby Osterlund, sophomore Hannah Lipman, sophomore Eavan Norman, sophomore Ciara Connell, and freshman Mia Dzwierzynski is poised to make a big impact once Michelin leaves to continue her running career at the University of North Carolina.
Saturday, that group dominated the competition at Hanson Stadium in Chicago. Michelin lapped almost the entire field on her way to her individual win, with teammate Norman 2nd in 10:44.43. Osterlund and Lipman ran 1-2 in the 1600 with respective times of 5:21.54 and 5:25.23, and Horton was only challenged by Dzwierzynski (2:27.21) while posting a clocking of 2:23.42 on her way to a win in the 800.
The Wildkits are so deep now that Gunter didn’t need to use anyone except Osterlund on the winning 3200 relay. She joined Cyndji Dieujuste, Annie Lee and Connell for a winning effort of 10:23.52, good enough for a 20-second triumph over second place East St. Louis.
The Kits also counted a 2nd place finish from Sasha Gordon in the triple jump (34 feet, 3 inches), a 2nd from Asia Eddy in the long jump (16-6) and placed second in both the 800 and 1600 relays.
Gunter said the perception that the program didn’t welcome distance runners into the fold is wrong, and pointed out the cyclical nature of high school sports as one of the reasons the Wildkits haven’t had much individual success in races covering more than the half mile.
“We’re not biased against anyone,” said Gunter, whose long-time assistant Jesse Sibert is in charge of the distance group. “Our feeling is if you don’t want to do the hard work we require, then go do something else. This isn’t about fun and games here, it’s about hard work and production.
“When Enyaeva said a couple of years ago that she wanted to bring some of the other girls into the (track) program, I said do you have girls there who can compete at a high level? At the time the answer was no. This is one of the hotbeds in the country for distance running and year in and year out you’re in some fast company here in Illinois.
“But she started actively recruiting some of the other girls and she did an outstanding job of selling the program and telling them to trust in Coach Sibert. Once they saw how things are, they bought in. It’s a good group of kids and they challenge each other every day. You see their times dropping and now it’s just a matter of them staying supportive of one another.”
“You have to give Enyaeva a lot of the credit,” Sibert added. “The other girls listen to her and she’s able to back up what she says.”
Michelin actually urged former soccer players Osterlund, Lipman and Dzwierzynski to abandon a spring sport that is typically the most popular at ETHS when it comes to player turnout. And that’s just what they did.
“I really do wish the soccer program well,” the ETHS senior insisted. “I think that was a hard decision for the soccer players. I just said come out to our preseason workouts and get your feet wet, see what it’s like. That went pretty well for them and so did our time trials. What I saw from all of them was the hard work they put in and how much they wanted to be good. Most of them came to our summer runs (preparing for the cross country season) on top of their soccer schedules. It’s so awesome to have them with us now. They’re such good teammates.
“Ever since my freshman year it seemed like there was a big gap, an empty space in Evanston sports when it comes to distance runners. There was so much opportunity there and it definitely changed my life. Their first-year times now are pretty remarkable. It’s a really tough sport mentally and it takes a lot to go as hard as they do every day. But I think they saw the potential — and I think they made the right choice.”
“It really started for us in cross country because Enyaeva is such a great role model,” said Osterlund. “She inspired us and influenced us to join the track team. She convinced the three of us (Lipman, Dzwierzynski) to stick together and reboot the distance program. There was a disconnect (between cross country and track), but we realized that if you run in the winter and the spring, you can become so much better.
“We’re all really close and that’s a big factor, too. We’re really pushing each other every day in practice, but in a good way. Hannah had a PR (personal record) by 8 seconds today and I’m so proud of her! I didn’t really run my best today, but overall I think all of our results hold out a really promising end to the season.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.