Parker English is poised for a big finish to the girls track and field season.
And based on the results of Thursday’s Class 3A Illinois High School Association sectional qualifying meet at Niles West, so are the rest of Evanston’s athletes.
The Wildkits claimed 9 individual and 3 relay qualifying spots for next weekend’s state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and captured the team title at the Niles West Sectional in chilly qualifying conditions in Skokie.
ETHS senior Parker English racked up individual wins in the long jump, 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters to go with a victory by Remy Amarteifio in the 100 hurdles and a first place finish by the 1600 relay team. Joining them as individual qualifiers for next Friday’s state preliminaries are Alexia Harvey in the 100 hurdles, Gabriell Watson in the high jump, Shahara Mitchell in the shot put and Latalee Lawrence in the triple jump.
Sectional meets are all about putting yourself in position for success on the final weekend of the season, a fact that veteran ETHS coach Fenton Gunter underlined to his athletes while they collected the first place team plaque after outscoring runnerup New Trier 124-96 in the 16-team field.
“If you can’t get there, you can’t fight,” said Gunter in reference to Evanston’s pursuit of a state team trophy. “Sometimes it will be ugly and today wasn’t a perfect meet for us. But as long as you get the job done, that’s all that matters. All you want to do is a get a spot (in the prelims) and live for another week. And they were able to get the job done today.”
Evanston has finished first or second in every major invitational meet this spring and winning the sectional was just the icing on the cake for Gunter, whose team also figures to be in the hunt for a team trophy (first, second or third place) among the state’s elite teams in Class 3A at Charleston.
“We never really focus on winning the sectional,” the coach said. “It’s usually all about qualifying. But with this group this year we’ve focused more on winning meets every week. We wanted to instill the habit of being competitive and fighting for first place, and they’ve responded every time.”
English responded in a big way, particularly in the shorter races. It marked only the third time this season that the Wildkit standout has competed in the 100, 200 and 400 in the same meet — and she hasn’t lost yet.
English was matched against Highland Park senior Nyjah Lane, a returning state placer from last spring. She scored decisive wins with times of 12.09 seconds in the 100 and 24.64 in the 200, a second and a half faster than Lane in the 200.
The Evanston flash also ruled the 400 in a quick 55.50 and needed only a single leap of 17 feet, 8.25 inches to take top honors in the long jump.
“Without a doubt, Parker is where we want her to be at this point,” Gunter said. “She’s running faster times than she did last year at this time, and she’s fresh, too. That’s all you can ask for. She has a real good support group with all these ladies (assistant coaches Tranquil Wilson, Tameeka McFarlane, Michelle Burke) who have won state championships before. And the older girls who ran with her are constantly in contact with her, too. Margaret Bamgbose (state hurdles champ) called her just today and told her that when the opportunity arose, she just has to go out and do her job.
“I thought the 100 was Parker’s hardest test today because of that young lady from Highland Park. We knew she was a strong and capable runner. I made the mistake of putting Parker in the blocks (starting blocks) and she got out slow. But she picked it up, got to about 60 meters and really made a decisive move on Lane. This is the only year she’s run the 100 but we feel pretty good about where she is right now.”
English is keeping her goals to herself regarding potential state finishes.
“I’m just grateful for a chance to go down and leave it all on that track down there again,” said the ETHS senior regarding her return to the blue oval surface in Charleston. “I just like to improve every year and I want to keep working my hardest. This year I’ve tried to work on my starts and my finishes, and everything we do in practice really always has such a purpose. I just follow what Coach Gunter tells me to do.
“I don’t know what to expect next week. I just want to give it my best effort. It’s all about improvement and effort, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Amarteifio, a junior, broke 15 seconds for the first time in the short hurdles with a winning effort of 14.97, with teammate Harvey also earning an automatic qualifying spot, second in 15.32. Amarteifio was also a member of all three qualifying relay squads along with Harvey, Grace Sakor and Miranda Dangerfield.
That foursome placed third in the 400 relay (beating the IHSA qualifying standard with a time of 49.41), second in the 800 relay (1:45.09) and first in the 1600 relay (4:03.40). They saved their best for last thanks to a strong leadoff leg in the 1600 from Dangerfield, who has spent more time in the pool trying to deal with a bad case of shin splints than she has on the track at practice this spring.
She missed all of last season last year with stress fractures after coming out for track for the first time as a junior and could help the Kits maneuver their way past the state prelims from the crucial leadoff position next weekend.
“Our relays got better as we went along, and so did Miranda,” Gunter pointed out. “She ran a good leg on the 4 x 200 and she was really competitive on that mile relay. We were leery about even letting her try to run after last year, but she wanted to try, and we’re really happy to have her with us. She only gets to work out with us about once a week on the track, and that does mess up our relay exchange work, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Watson, a sophomore, advanced to State for the first time after clearing 5 feet, 1 inch in the high jump.