Abby Osterlund and Alliyah Jones are trying to make an impact on the state level in two of the most difficult areas in girls high school track and field.

Osterlund, a senior, is attempting to climb the ladder in an Illinois distance field that ranks with the best in the nation. And Jones, a junior, is still a work in progress in the toughest event there is as far as trying to maintain week-to-week consistency, the triple jump.

The two standouts led Evanston to a 2nd place team finish Saturday at the 24th annual Proviso West Indoor Invitational meet. Coach Fenny Gunter’s team tallied 71 points to finish in the middle of a 3-way battle for the team title with Glenbard West (77) and DeKalb (69).

Jones scored Evanston’s only individual win, topping the triple jump field with a best leap of 36 feet, 5.25 inches. The Illinois High School Association outdoor state finals are still 12 weeks away, but state qualifying in that event is 36-2. The junior has already jumped 36-7 earlier in the indoor season.

Osterlund combined with Gabrielle Horton, Hannah Lipman and Eavan Norman to rule the 4 x 800-meter relay in 9:40 flat, but really opened some eyes with her runnerup finish in the mile run.

Osterlund was clocked in 5 minutes, 9.88 seconds while pressing the winner, Katherine Olsen of DeKalb (5:09.36) to the wire. That time doesn’t translate exactly to the 1600-meter standard of 5:08.84 established by the IHSA for outdoor qualifying, but it represented a full 10-second drop in the past week for someone who was more focused on cross country than track until last year.

Now the ETHS senior knows she can be in the hunt for postseason success, even though she’s still learning to compete at shorter distances than the 3 mile cross country tests.

That  inexperience showed when she twice tried to pass Olsen on the inside on the final lap and a half of Saturday’s race, only to be denied by the DeKalb runner.

“It was a weird race, running the mile instead of the 1600, because I wasn’t expecting that,” Osterlund said. “I just wish I had a stronger kick, but it still felt really good. Part of me thinks, oh, I could’ve gone faster, but for the beginning of March I’m really happy with that time.

“She (Olsen) left room for me on the inside, but then I heard her coach yell and then the opening wasn’t there. I stumbled a little at that point and I’m just glad I didn’t fall. I’ve been trying to break 5:10 the last 2 weeks and I wasn’t so sure that I had it in me. But Coach (Jessie) Sibert knew I did and he believed in me.”

Adjusting to shorter distances means learning a different pace and different race tactics, too. And to top it off, Illinois perennially produces some of the leading milers and 2-milers in the country, including Glenbard West’s Katelynn Hart, who set a meet record in the 800 on Saturday at Proviso (2:13.46) and may turn out to be the most decorated distance performer in state history.

Osterlund doesn’t back away from stiff competition, but knows there’s a tough road ahead of her.

“It is pretty daunting, when some of the best runners in the country are all around you,” she said. “It can be really humbling and some of these other girls are really incredible runners. But it also pushes you to be better and work harder.”

Osterlund’s junior track season — her first after being recruited by former cross country teammate Enyaeva Michelin  —  had a disappointing ending because she competed with a fractured hip in the postseason. She still turned in a best time of 5:15, and doesn’t really know what she can accomplish by the end of her career now that she’s 100 percent healthy.

“I’m just going to trust the process and take it 1 week at a time,” Osterlund said. “I don’t think I took the turnover work (in practice) as seriously last year, but I’m trying to work on that. There’s always room for improvement.”

“As long as Abby is patient, and listens to Coach Sibert, we’ll see how far they can take each other,” said Gunter. “Abby didn’t even know what a good mile time was until last year and she’s been a real trooper for us. She’s really done the work and I think the sky’s the limit for her.

“As coaches at the start of the (indoor) season we were actually talking about her just running the 2-mile at the end of the year because you only have to run it once (at the state finals). But if she keeps learning how to race in the mile and keeps dropping her time, who knows what will happen? It’s good for her to have options like that.”

Jones’ progress has encouraged the ETHS coaching staff to the point where she’s also competing regularly in the long jump. The lanky junior, now an impressive 6-feet tall, is still growing into her body and that can make perfecting her technique for the different stages of the triple jump even more of a hurdle.

So far, so good.

“Alliyah has dedicated  herself to become a real track and field athlete and now she’s seeing some results,” Gunter pointed out. “She’s still learning, but she’s even had some good fouls (jumps that don’t count officially). She could be one of the better triple jumpers we’ve had in a long time. It’s a hard event to learn and not everyone can do it, but Alliyah really has great potential.

“Last year she only tried the long jump a couple of times and she was at about 13 feet. Now she’s at 16 feet, and if we can get her to 17 she’ll be even tougher in the triple jump.”

The Wildkits also received major contributions Saturday from Asia Eddy, who took 2nd in the long jump with a best of 16-7, ran 3rd  in the 800 in her first ever attempt at the distance, in 2:28.60, and also placed 6th in the 200 in 27.51.

Also earning top 3 individual finishes were Drew Patterson, 2nd in the high jump at 5 feet; Denise Partee, 3rd in the 55 hurdles in 9.64; and Sasha Gordon, 3rd in the triple jump at 35-7.75.  

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

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