Evanston’s girls track team didn’t field any entries at all in 7 of the events at the Palatine Relays Saturday. But the Wildkits still found a way to win.
Coach Fenton Gunter’s squad scored a surprising victory over the host Pirates, outscoring Palatine 115-107 in brutal cold, windy and rainy conditions in Palatine.
Evanston recorded six first place finishes and seven runner-up performances to outclass a 13-team field in their final tuneup for postseason competition that starts next Thursday with the Central Suburban League South division meet at Niles North.
Double winners Enyaeva Michelin (800 meters, 1600 meters) and Hailey Taylor (100 meters, long jump) provided a spark for the champions on a day where places mattered more than times or distances. Northerly winds gusting to as much as 35 miles-per-hour impacted every event and rain plagued the competitors for the final three hours of the prestigious invitational.
“We had a lot of really good performances today in really bad conditions,” Gunter praised. “We needed to see how they would hold up under these conditions. We pulled out of a relay last week (on a trip to Louisville) but we told the girls before the meet that we won’t be pulling out of anything else the rest of the season, no matter what the conditions are.
“Our triple jumpers (Noni Shelton, Sasha Gordon, Alliyah Jones) got us off to a good start today and two of them had PRs (personal records). A lot of times they’re overshadowed by what we do on the track, but what they did was definitely a boost for us at the start.”
Each school was allowed three entrants per event in the field events, with the results combined into a “relay”. Shelton was right at her season best at 34 feet, 11.75 inches — good for 4th place as an individual in the field — while Gordon (5th at 33-10.75) and Jones (15th at 31-1.75) scored personal bests in less-than-ideal conditions.
In the long jump, the ETHS trio of Taylor, Gordon and Shyanne Williams earned an overall 2nd place finish, but Taylor topped the field with a best effort of 16-10.5 that beat out runnerup Teodora Henderson of Hersey by 7 inches.
Taylor was also awarded the win in the 100 dash with a time of 12.5 after the apparent winner, Lauren Kroll of Addison Trail, was disqualified.
The meet format that added several relays for underclassmen stretched the time schedule between races and allowed Michelin to attempt the 800-1600 double with a couple of hours in between races. The Evanston junior breezed to victories with winning margins of 9 and 12 seconds, respectively, and proved she might be able to try again to handle the “hot” distance runners awaiting her in the sectional in a couple of weeks.
Michelin fought the wind for an impressive time of 2 minutes, 17.42 seconds in the 800, then came back to rule the 1600 in 5:12.61 unchallenged by
Hersey’s Sarah Harden, who had the best seed time but dropped out prior to the race.
In both races, Michelin employed her new strategy of dashing immediately to the front and widening the gaps between her and the rest of the field right from the start.
“I was excited to be on the same track as the Distance Classic that they had here last week, but it turned into a Debbie Downer of a day with the weather like this,” Michelin said. “I’m really happy with that 2:17 because of the wind. Last week when we were in Louisville, the weather was actually worse than this. Running in the Midwest, you have to expect anything. It could be like this for the sectional, and then the question is what are you going to do about it?
“My strategy right now is to get out fast and open up a gap, because that’s really crucial to your place. I always like to have someone pushing me in the longer races, and I had planned to stay on the Hersey girl’s tail and try to run with her. But when she wasn’t there at the start, I had to switch up my game plan. One of the things I’ve learned this year is not to worry about the other runners and what they’re doing, just to use them when I need to.”
Michelin will likely drop down to shorter distances — perhaps the open 400 and the 1600 relay — at the conference meet to put in some speed work before the sectional. “I think there’s a strong possibility that we can put down a 4 x 400 relay that can qualify for State, and if we can, I want to be a part of that,” she said. “All I know right now is that I’m definitely running the 800 at the sectional.”
Senior Tauja Foreman helped ETHS pile up the points, winning the open 200 in 26.41 and placing second in the first race of the day, the 300 hurdles, in 47.50. She also contributed to runnerup efforts in the shuttle hurdle relay (1:13.01) and 400 relay (50.19).
“Tauja had a big burden today, with four events, and I thought she handled herself very well,” Gunter said. “She did a much better job through those first 6 hurdles (in the 300) and I really think she has a chance to improve a lot if the weather will just break for her.”
Foreman now considers herself a “veteran” hurdler and said the number of steps she takes between hurdles aren’t really an issue — except when she’s dealing with an extraordinary wind like on Saturday.
“The 15-step pattern is a natural for me, and the steps are what I think about the least,” she claimed. “So I was really disappointed when I stuttered today because of the wind. My legs were cold and they didn’t want to wake up. The wind got me today.
“I always run into the wind in practice because Coach (Tameeka) McFarlane says that if you can run in the wind, you can run in anything. Today I had five layers (of clothes) on and I’m still cold. I think last weekend (in Louisville) was nice compared to this. At least it was warmer.
“I just tried to be aggressive in the 200 so I could get some points for my team, although I couldn’t see because I had rain drops in my eyes. I’m still working on running that last backstretch faster, but this year I’m able to run that 200 without getting so tired. I’m better at being more determined, I guess.”
Evanston also ran second in the frosh-soph 1600 sprint medley relay (4:34.07) along with the traditional races of 800 (1:50.95) and 1600 (4:20.47) relays.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.