Tauja Foreman isn’t afraid to take on a challenge.
And the biggest challenge there is in the Evanston girls track program is to attempt to follow in the footsteps of former greats who made their mark in the hurdles events at the Illinois High School Association state finals.
So far, so good.
Just months after she first started picking up the events, the converted sprinter claimed first place in the 300-meter hurdles and second in the 100 hurdles as Evanston placed 4th overall in the team standings at the Central Suburban League South division championship meet at Niles West Thursday.
Evanston, with a roster that consists mainly of freshmen and sophomores this spring, only competed in 11 of a possible 18 events at the varsity level and finished with 84 team points. New Trier (180.5 points), Maine South (100), and Glenbrook South (91) beat out the Wildkits, with Niles West (71.5) and Waukegan (27) completing the field.
Junior Hailey Taylor won the 100 dash in 12.95 seconds and sophomore Noni Shelton only needed one attempt to rule the triple jump at 36 feet, 4.5 inches to account for the other two gold medal performances for coach Fenton Gunter’s team.
Foreman is the first to acknowledge that she’s still a work in progress in the hurdles, an event where speed only takes you so far and where technique has to be a constant for success in either the short or long race.
But the ETHS junior is glad she made the switch after posting a winning time of 47.13 in the 300 hurdles, just off the IHSA state qualifying standard of 46.78. She settled for 2nd to Niles West’s Jazmine Rafanan with a time of 15.93 after hitting the 8th hurdle in the 100 hurdle race, and also finished 2nd in the open 200 in 26.79.
“I really love the hurdles now. I’m so passionate about it,” Foreman said. “I’ve never heard of anyone who was a perfect hurdler — maybe someone in the Olympics — but I think one thing I’m really good about is trying to correct mistakes that I make. I’m always up for a challenge and I’m always trying to get better.
“Last year I watched Remy (graduated state placer Remy Amarteifio) and she was so graceful with the way she ran that she really inspired me. I decided I wanted to be that great, too. So in the summer I tried it and I fell down every day. But I never really wanted to stop. The hurdles are more technique than anything else, and I know that I need more focus and I need to be locked in more to be good at it.”
Foreman works out on a semi-regular basis with Amarteifio and is guided by assistant coach Tameeka McFarlane, a former hurdles champion herself.
“Working with Remy is such an honor for me,” she said. “She wants me to go as far as she did and she really pushes me. If I want to go easy in practice, she won’t let me.”
“Tauja has come such a long way in such a short period of time,” McFarlane noted. “She has a lot of power, a great stride, and a really aggressive demeanor when she runs. Once she smoothes out her technique, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
“Some of the hurdlers before her were really strong runners. We just want her to be focused on you because every one of the other girls (hurdlers) was different in her own way. I’m positive she’s going to do well and end the season on a good note this year.”
Gunter pointed out that recurrent shin problems that Foreman endures can limit any hurdler’s potential, but the junior just deals with it as one more hurdle to overcome.
“Because of her shins, every day is an adventure for her,” said the ETHS head coach. “She can’t get a lot of consistent practice in because of her legs, and we have to limit her when the weather’s bad, too. Sometimes she can’t do much of anything in practice.
“Last year we had her on the relays and she only had one bad meet — at the sectional. She caught a lot of flak about that for a sub-par performance from some of the alumni who were there, and now she’s rededicated herself. She made up her mind to put her heart and soul into track. She knows there are expectations and that if she doesn’t put forth the effort, it won’t work.”
Taylor added a 2nd place finish in the long jump Thursday at 16-7.5, and sophomore Enyaeva Michelin contributed a 4th in the 1600 in 5:20.06.
Evanston’s best relay finish came in the 400, where the team of Taylor, Foreman, Asia Lasey and Iman Musinovic earned 2nd in 50.12 to New Trier’s 49.75.
“We’ll probably make a few changes for the sectional next week,” Gunter said. “We’ll probably move Hailey over to the 200 (and out of the 1600 relay) because she’s not really a quarter-miler and I was looking today to see if she’d get a little more assistance in that relay. There are a couple of things I’ll sleep on before I make up my mind.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.