Max Peterson’s main contributions for the Evanston track team last spring came in the form of half-mile legs for the 3200-meter relay team.

But Peterson’s making his mark at some longer distances, too.

The junior standout is now taking aim on a possible All-State finish at next weekend’s Illinois High School Association state cross country finals after earning an at-large qualifying berth with a solid 12th place finish at Saturday’s Class 3A Niles West Sectional meet.

Peterson was clocked in 15 minutes, 14.43 seconds over the 3.0 mile course at Niles West and is hoping to knock off even more time on the state meet course at Detweiller Park in Peoria next Saturday.

He was Evanston’s lone qualifier after teammate Max Ebeling missed out by a mere 4-100ths of a second despite turning in the best race of his career.

Anyone who has Peterson pegged strictly as a half-miler shouldn’t waste their breath telling the junior that the leap to the 3-mile endurance test for cross country is something most middle distance runners don’t attempt.

To the dark- haired junior, a race is a race.

“I never ran cross country in grade school (St. Joan of Arc) and I didn’t run it as a freshman, either,” Peterson said. “The distance may be longer than most of my track races, but it’s still just running to me. I’m really enjoying the cross country season this year — I love the cross country vibe — but for me, track is really the main thing.

“Coach Michelin (Don Michelin Sr., ETHS head track coach) said he’s going to try me in the 800 and 1600, and maybe in the mile relay, too. I made it to Nationals in track over the summer (800 and 4 x 800 relay) and having that experience against some great runners really changed my mindset. It was humbling, but at the same time it showed me that they didn’t have anything I don’t, I just had to focus in.

“I’ve been right around the same (time) pace all season, so I was expecting to make it to State. But I’m really excited about it and I definitely want to break 15 minutes when I get down there. If I do that, I’ll see where that places me, and then I’ll bring what I’ve learned to the track season.”

Since many of the top Class 3A contenders in Peoria were also part of the Niles West field, Peterson could crash into the top 25 and earn All-State status if he can put his best feet forward in Peoria.

“I wanted to come out and break 15 minutes today, but it just didn’t happen,” he shrugged. ‘I’ve been having a problem with pain in my shoulder and no one can tell me exactly what’s wrong. It always starts to bother me in the second mile, and it was bad today. Other than that, this was a decent race for me.

“I wanted to be with the top 2 or 3 guys today and I tried to follow that front pack, but they’re at a level that I’m not at — yet. That set me off my pace a little. But eventually I was able to latch onto a bunch of other runners, and I stuck it out for the rest of the race.”

“Max Peterson is a competitor,” praised ETHS cross country coach Don Michelin Jr. “Whenever he lines up for a race, in cross country or track, it’s a race because he’s so aggressive. And most of the in the half mile you have to get yourself in the mix (near the lead) right away, so it’s really not that much different than cross country.

“Cross country is an intimidating sport, physically and mentally, and if you don’t come out with aggression you’ll get left behind.”

Peterson paced Evanston to a 10th place finish in the team standings — one place higher than at last year’s sectional — with a total of 251 points in the 18-team field. The top four teams — Wheaton Warrenville South with 61, Glenbard West with 89, York with 102 and New Trier with 134 — claimed automatic qualifying team berths for State.

There were mixed emotions in the Evanston camp when the Wildkits discovered that Ebeling, a senior, would be left behind when it came to advancing. The top 7 individuals who weren’t members of qualifying team kept their seasons alive, but Ebeling ranked 8th on that list.

The margin between the last qualifier, Jacob Flynn of St. Ignatius, and Ebeling was 15:24.43 to 15:25.08 according to the official FAT system. Flynn was in, and Ebeling was out.

The Evanston runner’s max effort included a personal best time and he passed at least one New Trier runner, Charlie Forbes, who he had trailed throughout the regular season matchups with the Trevians.

“Max has climbed so far over the last bit of the season and this is really a shame,” said Michelin Jr. “He did everything he could, he just ran out of his mind today. He really rose up for us today.”

“The kick I had there at the end felt great, because I’ve never had that before,” Ebeling pointed out. “This is definitely the best I’ve felt for a race and I had a PR (personal record) by about 10 seconds. It hurt a lot, but it felt good, too.

“I’ve been trailing Forbes all season. Today I ran with him and with about 150 or 200 meters to go I caught both New Trier guys (along with 20th place finisher Andrew Flynn). I didn’t feel good for the first half mile of the race, but then I realized that this could be my last race, and I’ve gotta do it now!”

Evanston’s point total also included junior James Moran, 49th in 15:56.13; senior Julion Michelin, 89th in 16:30.66; and junior Jack Rutstein, 96th in 16:35.57. Also competing for ETHS were junior Conor Ward, 106th in 16:47.08, and sophomore Ellis Allen, 117th in 17:02.28.     

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

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