Johnson sets hurdles pace at Niles West Sectional

It took Kalil Johnson one week to get payback for a loss in the hurdles.

A determined Johnson turned the tables on Glenbrook South’s talented first-year competitor Nathan Shapiro of Glenbrook South in the finals of the 300-meter hurdle race and completed a sweep of the hurdles to pace Evanston qualifiers coming out of the Class 3A Niles West Sectional meet.

Johnson won the 110-meter hurdle race in 14.90 seconds and ruled the longer test in 40.19 Thursday, just one week after a pair of disappointing runnerup finishes at the Central Suburban League South division meet. He was edged out by Shapiro in that 300 hurdle race and wasn’t about to let it happen again.

The Wildkits also qualified triple jump champion Jamaal Perrin and 100-meter dash winner Sacrad Michelin, and will send their 3200, 800 and 1600 meter relay squads to next week’s Illinois High School Association state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Evanston placed 2nd in the team standings with 87 points to 103.5 for Prospect, but did have the satisfaction of beating out the team (Maine South, 3rd with 80.5) that snapped their team string of titles at the conference meet.

“I thought we were more Orange and Blue this week than we were last week,” said ETHS head coach Don Michelin, reflecting on Evanston’s tradition for rising to the occasion in big meets. “Our focus was better today than it was at the conference meet. The kids all really worked hard this week.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are still getting over injuries, but there are no excuses. Now it’s the catchup piece for us and hopefully they’ve got one more good week in them. Kalil might be the first sophomore we’ve ever had win two hurdle races at the sectional and he’s really just starting to get the rust off. He was nursing a hamstring injury 10 days before the conference meet, so I’m hoping he’ll even run a little bit better in Charleston.”

Evanston’s injured list this spring hasn’t approached that of the New York Yankees --- but it’s in that ballpark. The Michelin cousins, Sacrad and Julion, are also on the comeback trail from various ailments along with Johnson and Perrin. The fact that all were able to keep their seasons alive for another week displayed their true grit Thursday.

“That 110 race was my best time, but I could have beat myself up more (and run faster) in the 300s,” said Johnson. “My mindset wasn’t as strong as it should have been for that race.

“I told coach before the race that I’d hit the 14s in the high hurdles, and I wanted to go 38-39 in the 300 hurdles. But I did pretty well considering that I’m coming off an injury. I think what I did today looks pretty good on paper for a sophomore. And making it to State feels great! Half of me thought coming into the season that I’d make it down, but I had to put in the work each week. There’s a pattern to success and you have to take it step by step.

“I was PO’d when I lost to that freshman --- although I do give him props.”

Johnson’s explosive start set the tone for the win in the 110 hurdles, by a 14.90 to 15.16 margin over runnerup Patrick Kaufman of New Trier. His strategy in the 300 hurdles was different, as a closing burst helped him catch and then pass Shapiro in the final two hurdles, with a final lunge leading to a winning time of 40.19 to 40.23 for the GBS frosh.

Perrin, meanwhile, punched a ticket to Charleston for the first time as a senior with a best effort of 44 feet, 2 inches. He won that event by exactly one foot and no one was going to rain on the gutsy senior’s parade, even though the minimum state qualifying standard was 44-7. First and second place finishers in each event automatically advance to State.

Like most jumpers at this point in the season, Perrin’s body needs a break from the constant pounding of his specialty.

Instead, he’s eager to make the trip to Eastern Illinois.

“I’ve been waiting 4 years for this and it really feels good,” said Perrin. “I’m trying to do my best even though I’ve been fighting shin splints since the beginning of the indoor season. I’ve been stuck at 42 feet, but I knew I had to bring it out today and win it for my team.

“I jumped 46 indoors, and in the finals I scratched at that by a hair --- but I still managed to come out on top. There’s a lot of pressure being the No. 1 jumper at Evanston, but at this point there are no excuses. Everyone feels it. I’ve been icing every day since the beginning of the year, but you gotta do what you gotta do. You have to leave it behind, forget about the pain and just do it.”

For junior Sacrad Michelin, Thursday’s meet was a good news, bad news scenario. The good news was that he nosed out Charley Smith of Maine South by 1-100th of a second with a winning time of 10.97 in the 100, and also combined with Isaac Hunter, Peter Braithwaite and Ayoub El-Ashmawi for a fourth place qualifying time of 1:29.85 in the 800 relay.

The bad news? He fell short of earning a repeat trip in the 200, clocked in 22.84 as the 3rd place finisher, and was a member of the 400 relay team that finished out of the money, 3rd behind Prospect and New Trier, in 43.04.

But considering a nagging groin injury forced him to shut down completely for a couple of weeks, the talented sprinter couldn’t be sure he’d even be in a position to be competing by the second or third week of May.

“This was definitely a good day,” said Michelin. “Coming off of that injury, I wouldn’t have believed I could do the times I put down today, especially in the 100.

“I started feeling pain in the groin at the beginning of the season and I just toughed it out. That was a bad idea on my part. I took a break (about a month) and just did cardio workouts and tried to build my strength in the weight room. I just knew I had to get back Downstate somehow. I just trusted that the break would do me more good at the end.”

Julion Michelin’s two best relay legs of the season sparked the Wildkit relays that qualified in both the 3200 and 1600. He led off the 3200 in 1:58.51 and teammates Giacomo Conde, J.J. Klamm and Max Peterson brought home a runnerup finish in 7:58.513, the first time those four have been paired together all spring.

Michelin provided the finishing touch in the 1600 relay (season best 3:22.61) with an anchor leg of 48.88, set up by teammates El-Ashmawi, Klamm and George Hannah. Maine East was clocked in 3:21.80 to earn the victory.

Their proud grandfather, head coach Don Michelin, praised both runners for their efforts Thursday.

“Sacrad was hurt and we had to shut him down, and now he’s starting to show us a little something. But it takes awhile (to come back from an injury),” Coach Michelin pointed out. “Julion ran an excellent leadoff leg in that 4 x 800 to get us out to the lead. You need your best runner, or at least your second best runner, on that leg because other teams really jack it up on that leg.

“Julion’s a senior and maybe it’s just time for him to do all that. When it’s a team race you’re responsible for holding up your end of the bargain, and maybe he just LIKES having to hold up his end of the bargain.”

Hunter, another senior, led Evanston’s non-qualifiers  with 4th place performances in both the 100 (11.10) and 200 (23.06).

Also contributing top 6 finishes were sophomore Aaron Hutchins, who won his heat in the 300 hurdles and placed 4th overall in 41.36; freshman Sebastian Cheeks, 5th in the 110 hurdles in 15.32; and Peterson, 6th in the 1600 in 4:31.26.  

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