One day after the sectional qualifying meet, Emma Dzwierzynski already knew what the weather forecast was for the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state cross country finals next Saturday at Peoria’s Detweiller Park.
52 degrees — and sunny.
You couldn’t blame the Evanston junior if she already has a weather app just for that. She achieved a rare feat in the history of the girls program by qualifying for the second straight year under brutal running conditions Saturday at the Lake Park Sectional.
Dzwierzynski earned an at-large state berth with her 14th place sectional finish, covering the 3 mile qualifying test in 18 minutes, 19 seconds on a slippery and muddy course. She was the only ETHS runner to advance after the Wildkits placed 11th in the 18-team field with 270 points.
New Trier dominated the meet with a team total of 50 points, followed by Wheaton Warrenville South (75), Glenbard West (89), Maine South (115) and York (200) in the top five.
Dzwierzynski’s focus on the weather was understandable after the sectional survival test. Every runner competing in the rainy conditions had to focus more on place than time at the race, and the Evanston junior was no exception.
“It was muddy and it was wet, and it was really slick on some of those 90-degree turns on the course,” she said. “I just went into the race thinking more about my place (finish) compared to other people than my time.
“I tried not to approach it any different from any other race and I tried not to think about how the rain could affect me. I was pretty proud of the race I ran even though I had a little higher place (11th) last year at the sectional. The competition at the sectional gets more competitive every year. But overall my times are better than last year and I’m much more positive mentally. That’s made a big difference for me.”
Dzwierzynski, as usual, ran away from the rest of the Evanston pack. Next best finisher for the Wildkits was sophomore Enyaeva Michelin, 47th in 18:56. Sophie Levine (56th in 19:10), Hannah Hayat (75th in 19:32), Grace Naquin (91st in 19:59), Maya Crowe-Barnes (107th in 20:29) and Sarina Elenbogen-Siegel (118th in 20:55) also competed for Evanston.
Dzwierzynski’s confidence has grown with experience. She didn’t start as a competitive runner until she entered high school, and in the spring she prefers to play soccer over track.
Now she’s hoping that experience will help her move up in the field of runners Saturday in Peoria. The atmosphere with hundreds of runners on an unfamiliar course can be overwhelming for any individual competing there for the first time, although Dzwierzynski’s 79th place individual finish last year was one of the best efforts in Evanston’s history.
Now it’s a case of been there, done that, and she won’t get caught up in the hype.
“I do have some goals as far as place and time,” she noted. “I want to run under 18 minutes and I know I can do it, because I came within a second or so of doing at the conference meet. Last year the feeling was omigod, it’s so amazing to be here! But now that I have that experience, I want to focus on my place and my time. After all, this IS a race!
“I know there are girls who will run 16 minutes down there and I’m trying to put them out of my head. This year I’ve been near the front in a lot more races, though, and I’ve had to learn to pace myself more instead of trying to hang with other people. It’s a mental race — that’s half the battle — and I know I can do it.
“It will still be nerve-wracking, there will be tons of people there, and I know I’ll have some butterflies. I just want to leave it all out there and make it count, make it special.”