Max Peterson is building up to what could end up as an All-State climax to his cross country career at Evanston.
That’s fair warning to the rest of the pack remaining in the Illinois High School Association field of competitors.
After missing two weekend competitions to focus on ACT/SAT college placement tests, Peterson passed a major exam on Saturday at the Niles West Regional meet.
Avoiding a late slide like the one that cost him a couple of places at last week’s Central Suburban League South division meet, Peterson posed a strong challenge to eventual champion Joey Kasch of Maine South before settling for a runnerup finish in 15 minutes, 24 seconds over the 3.0 mile course.
Peterson’s performance sparked Evanston to a 4th place finish in the team standings with 119 points and easily landed one of the six team qualifying spots for next Saturday’s sectional at Lake Park. ETHS trailed only New Trier (37 points), Maine South (37) and Loyola Academy (76) in the team standings.
Senior Jack Rutstein (18th in 16:06), junior Ellis Allen (29th in 16:40), senior Giacomo Conde (34th in 16:56), sophomore Solomon Green (36th in 16:58), sophomore Sam Bennett (38th in 17:00) and freshman Declan Ahern (39th in 17:02) also turned in solid performances to keep Evanston’s season alive for at least another week.
Peterson, who qualified for State as a junior and placed 35th in Class 3A, feels much more confident about the rest of the season — and also about being able to close the gap on Kasch, who beat him by 12 seconds on Saturday.
The pair ran shoulder to shoulder for the first 2 miles at Niles West before Kasch pulled away.
“Today I was a little more confident than I was at the conference meet (where he ran 5th),” Peterson said. “I felt really good after the first mile (5:13 split), but then I lost a little confidence and I wasn’t sure I’d die again. But I ended up feeling really good, so at the sectional I’ll push it longer and try to stay with Kasch as long as I can.
“The conditions were a little harsher than at the conference race, against the same competition, so I just have to keep chipping off the distance between me and Kasch. He started to push it on me a little before the 2.5 mile mark coming out of the woods and he pushed it on the back stretch. I didn’t feel tired but I was afraid I’d get caught by the New Trier kid (third place finisher Nick Falk) so I didn’t want to risk it all. I tried too hard at the conference meet and I made a mistake.
“I’m proud of the race I ran today. There’s nothing wrong with finishing second, I just wish I was a little closer.”
ETHS head coach Don Michelin Jr. said the fact that Peterson missed two invitational races during the regular season to try to keep improving his college placement scores “wasn’t a killer for him” but sowed some doubt about just where he’d be positioned for the postseason.
“I really didn’t think missing every other race (recently) would hurt him — but competing in meets does help, we just don’t know how much. When a guy has the mentality of Max, he never has a bad race, though. I felt all along that he was on his way back,” Michelin Jr. said.
“I actually kinda felt good about having to build him back up, especially because he’s been training all along and I knew he wasn’t injured or beat up physically. We used that conference meet as an indicator and I thought it was great that he was right up there with the top guys.”
Evanston almost had to replace its No. 2 runner, Rutstein, when the senior standout felt a twinge in his knee approximately two hours before the scheduled race. But he regrouped to chalk up a personal best time by 27 seconds.
“I even told one of our alternate runners that he’d better get ready because I wasn’t sure I was going to make it,” Rutstein said. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run but I ended up getting even splits for the first time today, and I got a PR with it.”
“Rutstein showed up big time for us today with those 5:20 splits,” praised the Evanston coach. “He’s been trying to run even splits all year, and today he put it all together. He really gave it his best effort.
“Our younger kids did it as a pack for us today, and it’s been hard to get them to run like that. They like to beat each other, not run as a pack.”