Abby Osterlund didn’t pretend that she’d become the next Enyaeva Michelin for the Evanston girls track and cross country teams.

But the ETHS senior did her best to follow in Michelin’s footsteps Saturday at the Class 3A Niles West Sectional meet.

Osterlund followed Michelin’s path — all the way to Peoria, after qualifying for the Illinois High School Association state finals with a 17th place individual finish at the sectional competition.

Osterlund earned one of 7 at-large state berths for runners who weren’t members of the state qualifying teams, after full teams from New Trier (64 points), Wheaton Warrenville South (67), York (94), and Glenbard West (111) claimed those spots. ETHS placed 7th in the 18-team field with 216 points.

Osterlund was clocked in 18 minutes, 16.86 seconds over the 3 mile course at Niles West and was the lone Wildkit girl to advance. Next best finisher for the Wildkits was junior Hannah Lipman, 46th in 19:13.91.

Osterlund’s first trip to State showed that Michelin’s influence still resonates within the girls program, even though last year’s state runner-up is now a standout at the University of North Carolina. Michelin’s work ethic and training regimen and leadership have served as a role model for her ex-teammates.

Just ask Osterlund.

“Enyaeva was the one who gave us the team leadership last year, and we seniors all knew that collectively we had to step up and be leaders like her,” Osterlund said. “We worked together all summer and we all loved being together as a team. That’s my favorite time to run, in the summer, and we took the initiative to step up. We ran cross country practices in the mornings and track practices in the afternoon, and even though that was a lot of work, it really  helped with team bonding.”

Those summer workouts also helped Osterlund get back on track physically. By the end of the spring track season she was hobbled by a slight hip fracture and had to take 6 weeks off before resuming her running regimen.

“That was a crazy race today,” said the senior standout, meaning “crazy” in a good way. “There was such good competition and this is really exciting for me (to qualify). Making it to State has always been a goal of mine, but I just wanted to have fun today, and if it happened, it happened.

“Knowing this could have been my last race, it really meant a lot for me to finish strong. Last year my PR (personal record) was 19:11 and this year it’s 17:57, so I was able to drop a full minute. That speaks to the awesome track program we have, the training, the coaches and all of the other girls who are always pushing each other. And the guys on the boys team are always pushing and motivating us, too.

“Today I was hoping for a good first mile. I’ve been stronger with my second mile lately because I’ve set a goal to fight and not let people pass me like they were doing earlier in the year. Today my focus was on place, not on time.”

 “Abby started out the season bad, but she got faster after that,” said ETHS head coach Rosette Ochoa. “It was almost like she got to the point where she had the same mentality that Enyaeva had when she was here. She had a purpose, and she started doing everything right. Today she was running for her team — not for herself — and it’s the cherry on top that she gets to go to State.

“We had PRs from a couple of others, too, and the competition is really good here. There’s nothing for us to be sad about. Since last year all of the girls have dropped their times dramatically, and you could see the hunger for success from the whole team was there today. This is a strong junior class and they really worked hard and focused this year.”

Lipman and sophomore Mia Dzwierzynski (48th in 19:14.60) ran career best times for the Wildkits. Also competing for ETHS were junior Eavan Norman, 52nd in 19:19.46; freshman Catherine Lynch, 65th in 19:32.23; junior Ciara Connell, 84thin 19:54.11; and sophomore Hope Leman, 101st in 20:13.24.   

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

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