Track: the race downstate

Michael Barthelemy, Sports Editor

Consistent greatness.

For the boys and girls track teams, that’s the name of the game. Year in and year out, both sides are able to send multiple runners to state competition no matter the event, and this year looks to be no different.

“We’re a running community and have a strong tradition in track and field as boys and girls,” boys head coach Don Michelin Sr. said. “I’ve been in this community since 1964 and it’s always been a running community.” 

After seven events qualified for state competition last season for the boys and 10 for the girls, there is no reason why this season should not be one to remember.

 

ETHS’s long reign of winning culture continued to last season. During the winter season, the team finished in first place in the Olivet Nazarene, Homewood-Flossmoor, Dan Phillips and Lake Michigan Invites, while also earning the top spot in the conference meet. During the spring, they took home the Thornton Invitational title on route to second place finishes in both the conference and Sectional meets.

With such a historic streak of success, everything comes back to the coaching. Michelin Sr. has been coaching track since 1981. With nearly 40 years of experience, he has been able to identify the best way to train his team: base all events around the 400 meter race.

“The 400 meter is our median. All of our runners either train 400 and up or 400 and down, so we’ve divided the team up in that way,” Michelin Sr. explained. “In their track DNA, the 400 meter is in there.”

The 400 meter is the perfect sweet spot for any runner. On the sprinter’s side, training at a longer distance than usual helps build up one’s endurance so that once they run an event a fraction of the distance, it is done with ease. For the distance team, the 400 is able to allow the runners to work towards improvement of speed and the final sprint push one makes at the end of a race.

Michelin’s philosophies all come back to one word: commitment. If the team is able to commit to the process, then they’ll find success in both the winter and spring.

“The long range vision is for us to be doing our absolute best two months out of the season, which is March and May. What makes this work is the day to day agenda, which is to practice, being at practice and getting in your reps. It’s like playing the scales in music: your best musicians are always playing the scales.”

 

For the girls team, despite having a double digit number of events qualify for state competition last season, including all four relay teams, they view this season like every other: a blank slate. The beginning of the year is the time for girls to establish their place on their team. 

“Just because you did well last year doesn’t mean you’ll do well this season,” head coach Fenton Gunter said. “Every year is a new season and every day is a new day and thats how we look at it.”

The established culture that everyone must prove themselves daily extends into the structure of the team. An aspect of this team that is unique compared to most is the lack of distinguished captains, giving every runner equal opportunity to make their mark as a leader.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an upperclassmen or a freshman, you have to show us you have that potential to be a person other people will listen to no matter if you’re young or old,” Gunter explained. “You don’t make leaders, leaders make themselves.”

Though the team may not know all of their roles just yet, that doesn’t distract them from the communal goal to send runners to state. No matter where one stands on the team, they’ll be fighting to keep a historic streak alive.

“We’re the only program in the school’s history to be in every single state final so that’s a very big thing for us to ensure we score some points,” Gunter said.

In order to score at state, those who have big meet experience will have to improve upon their abilities and help guide their teammates to that point. Looking at the distance, sprinting and hurdling team, each have the presence of a state qualifier and function in their methods. 

 

Boys Hurdlers

Garnering national attention, junior Kalil Johnson leads a strong group of hurdlers.

Johnson put up impressive results last season. In the indoor season, he swept the Dan Phillips Relays, gaining first in both the low and high 55 meter hurdle events as well as in the 4×200 meter relay. Winning the conference in those same three events, he took that momentum into the outdoor season and continued to grow. After a win in the 110 and 300 meter hurdles at the Red Grange Invitational, Johnson went on to win the Sectional championship in these two events.

After racing at state, Johnson took his talents to the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships. There, he ranked fourth in the nation within his age group, putting himself on the radars of many.

Now coming into a fresh season with higher expectations than ever before, Johnson knows what he must do to reach his aspirations.

“I think running at state is the reason why I perform differently. I know what it takes in a big meet with a lot of competition and a lot of people watching so it definitely helps,” Johnson explained.

Aside from Johnson, junior Aaron Hutchins and sophomore Sebastian Cheeks are primed for success, if healthy. Hutchins showed to be capable of productive results in his sophomore season, pulling out first place finishes in the Red Grange Invitational and coming in fourth in the Sectional for the 300 meter. 

As for Cheeks, his success is reliant on his health. Recovering from a torn labrum he suffered in the fall, his season is in question, but the team would be thrilled to see him perform. As a freshman, he was able to win the freshman conference title in the 55, 110 and 300 meter event while securing a fifth place finish in the Sectional of the 110. 

“[Cheeks] just missed going down state last year as a freshman, so if he can recover from his shoulder surgeries and get into shape he can play a large role,” Michelin Sr. said.

 

Boys Distance

A strong senior distance class comes out of the cross country season ready to finish their high school track careers with a bang.

The distance squad has already found success this season, with many of the runners being a part of the cross country team that qualified for Sectionals. Now with a few winter meets under their belt, results look to be more of the same.

These first preseason meets showed me that we can easily be conference champions and compete in the sectional and send a lot of guys down state,” senior Jack Rutstein said.

Rustein along with fellow senior Max Peterson have shown to be leaders within the team. Last season, Peterson won the Indoor Conference Championship in the 1600 meter and finished second in both the 800 and 1600 during the outdoor season, while competing in the 4×800 relay at state. 

Rutstein, while not having quite the resume of Peterson, has shown increased improvement and commitment over the offseason. After a Sectionals appearance last season in the 800 meter, Rutstein made appearances in two outside meets: the Foot Locker Regional Championships and the Proviso West Milesplit IL Showcase. The fruits of his labor have already appeared in the cross country season, as Rutstein finished with the best time on the team during the race.

“I’m definitely in the best shape of my life and the healthiest I’ve been in my life,” Rutstein said.

 

Boys sprinters

The legacy of the Michelin family has existed in the Evanston community for three generations, and has continued through senior Sacrad Michelin.

Being coached by both his father and grandfather, there is no shortage of pressure for S. Michelin, but he has lived up to the expectations time and time again. Last winter, he won the Indoor Conference Championship for the 200 meter dash and 4×200 relay. During the outdoor season he one-upped that, winning the conference title in both the 100 meter and 4×200. After competing in four events at Sectionals and winning in the 100 meter, he advanced to state in both the 100 meter and 4×200.

Now coming off of a 4th place finish in the USATF Illinois Association Junior Olympic Championships over the summer, S. Michelin knows how to better settle his nerves and handle an important race.

“I learned a lot in the offseason about technique so hopefully that will help give me a leg up,” S. Michelin explained. “Having experienced being down state and being in big meets has just given me experience I can use for this year.”

Outside of S. Michelin, there is a lot to be excited about for this group. Led by S. Michelin and fellow senior captain JJ Klamm, the leaders have established a hard working environment that is ready to compete.

“I feel like the team has really good character this year,” S. Michelin said. “Last year, if we had to do a workout there would be a little complaining and the energy would be low. This year, [the team] just goes in and gets their work done, and it’s pretty impressive.”

 

Girls Distance

A small but determined group of distance runners will look to continue the streak of distance runners sent down state. 

Headed by seniors Gabby Horton, Hannah Lipman and Eavan Norman, the desire for success in their final season has fueled them as well as the rest of the team.

“All of us and especially the seniors are so motivated because we want to get a trophy this year,” Horton said. “I have changed my eating habits and care a lot more about that. As a team our coach definitely amped up our workouts. Mentally we have changed too; we all want to be challenged by our coaches.” 

The issue that lies in this pursuit is the lack of numbers. The distance team is the smallest it has been in recent memory and as a result, the idea of relay teams as successful as last season 4×800 is in question.

Featuring all three of Horton, Lipman and Norman, as well as now graduated Abby Osterlund, the 4×800 relay was able to snatch a second place finish in Sectionals on their way to an appearance at state. Now with a loss of depth in the team, the trio are not able to focus as heavily on this race, knowing they may have to cover other events.

With such a small bunch, the chemistry of the team has reached a new level. Each girl has created a bond with the others that has resulted in a special bond.

“I feel that the team is more of a family this year,” Horton explained. “We are all really close and genuinely care about each other. We’re all pushing each other in practice because we genuinely want each other to be the best we can be.”

 

Girls hurdlers

With multiple underclassmen finding great success in the hurdles last year, a push for a state title is not too far out of sight.

Last season two hurdlers were able to make a run deep in competition: current junior Gaby Calixte and sophomore Jacklynn Okereke. For Okereke, she burst onto the scene as a freshman in the 100 meter hurdle. After strong displays in the Thomas McBride Invitational (second place finish) and the Eastlake Classic and Palatine Relays (fifth place in both races), Okereke had her best time of the season to come in second place in the Sectional round before competing in state.

For Calixte, she dominated the 300 meter all season long. After winning the Eastlake Classic and earning runner-up in the Palatine Relays and Thomas McBride Invitational, she went on to win both the conference title as well as the Sectional.

Calixte attributes much of her success over the past year from the style of coaching that has allowed her to make the most of each practice.

“We have a different schedule every day. Coach sees how we’re doing and builds a workout based on that,” Calixte explained. “If I’m not feeling it one day he just switches up the workout which is really helpful because it’s hard to perform well when you’re not at 100%.”

Outside of the top two, senior Denise Partee looks to build upon the momentum she built late last season in the 100 meter. Partee had top three finishes in her final three races, including a first place finish in JV conference and a third place finish at Sectionals, where she received her fastest time to date.

 

Girls sprinters

With a collection of three strong relay sprint teams returning, the sprinters look to headline this year’s team and make a memorable trip down state.

Sending three relay teams to the state finals is a huge achievement for any program, and to do it with zero seniors lined up is even more impressive.

In the 4×100 relay, current seniors Ariel Logan, Chassa Pratt, sophomore Dystonae Clark and Calixte cruised to a Sectional win before Calixte was substituted out for senior Maia Hadaway ahead of the state race.

Calixte joined the 4×200 and 4×400 teams instead. In both events, she replaced Okereke, who along with Clark, sophomore Rikki Gray and Logan in the 4×200 and Gray, Horton and Lipman in the 4×400 finished first and second in Sectionals.

Now with the experience in these big races, the team feels they have the right mindset to improve in their success.

“My mindset has to be totally different when running a big race. Because you can have all the skills but if your mindset is off then it’s really hard to be on [your top level],” Calixte explained. “I’m trying to stretch more and take better care of my body.”

Individually, Clark and Hadaway lead the way. In the 200 meter, Hadaway came in second place in Sectionals and qualified for state competition. For Clark, she finished in second in the conference and fourth in Sectionals in the 100 meter, all in her first season.

With every sprinter of note from last season returning this year, there is no reason to not expect an improvement on last year’s incredible results.