Evanston track coach Don Michelin called the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state track and field meet a “superstar meet” and it lived up to that billing with performances that included a state record triple jump that ranks No. 1 in the nation this spring, a 7-foot performance in the high jump, a 1:49.91 clocking in the 800-meter dash, and a record effort of 17 feet, 4 inches in the pole vault.
Michelin was just glad to have a superstar of his own on his side Saturday at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
Senior sprinter Brad Garron capped a brilliant 4-year career with a pair of top 3 individual finishes and led the Wildkits to a tie for 8th place in the team standings on a sunny afternoon in Charleston.
Garron claimed a second place medal in the open 200 with a time of 21.70 second, placed 3rd in the 400 in 48.92, and combined with classmates Myles Hampton, Brian Daniels and Oluwashola Oluleye to earn a surprising 5th place finish in the 400 relay in a season best time of 42.34.
Add in an 8th place finish by junior Jonathan Wilburn in the triple jump with a personal best of 46 feet, 9.75 inches and the Kits totaled 22 points, same as Barrington, Lyons Township, Minooka and Plainfield North. Edwardsville captured the Class 3A team championship with 42 points, beating out Downstate challengers East St. Louis Senior (39) and Bloomington (32).
Michelin noted that ETHS was able to maximize its efforts with a low number of state qualifiers and the overall performance left a good taste for a Wildkit team that didn’t win the sectional the previous week.
“Yes, this was a big bounce-back for all of them,” Michelin praised. “We had the highest finish as a team for our sectional and that’s something for them to be proud of.
“Brad came darned close to winning that 200, and what he did coming from 7th place to 2nd place was just tremendous, a superstar move. And if we get a last exchange (baton pass) clean to him in that last exchange in the 4 x 100, he might have run down a few more guys in that race, too.
“We scored 22 points and I’ll take that any time — when we’re not in line for a trophy, that is.”
“This is probably the most fun state meet I’ve ever had,” said Garron, even though he was part of two gold medal performances on relay teams as a sophomore at State. “Last year the pressure of being in my first individual final at the state meet got to me (in the 400), but this year I think I made up for it.
“I think I ended up on a good note.”
In the 400, Garron actually led the first 250 meters of the race before being run down by eventual champ Luis Cossio of Barrington (48.33) and Deonte Anderson of East St. Louis Senior (48.92). He saved his best for last in the 200, beating his preliminary qualifying time of 22.09.
The ETHS senior’s late surge was so bold it even caught the FAT (fully automatic timing) system by surprise. At first, the scoreboard listed Garron as the fifth place finisher, but seconds later the adjusted standings showed him a scant 13-hundredths of a second behind the 200 winner, Declan Rustay of Hoffman Estates.
“Before the 200 I just told myself to stay calm, and come out relaxed,” Garron said. “Then I used everything I had left to pull through. I think it was my best 200 of the year, in terms of effort. I tend to run better when I don’t run ‘rushed’. It really took me up to midway through this year to understand that. After I ran a 49 something in the conference race (in the 400) and didn’t have to run it that hard, and then went back to being the ‘old Brad’ and won the 200 with my first 21, I realized that’s the way I should always run.”
Michelin said the soft-spoken senior never complained about injuries that typically limit sprinters during what can be brutal conditions in the spring in northern Illinois, but suspected that there were physical issues that may have limited him prior to the final weekend of Garron’s career.
He’ll continue his track career at the University of Iowa next year, and will likely focus on the 400 race.
“I think at times this year he was hurting, whether it was his quad or his hamstring, but he’d always tell you he felt fine when you asked him,” said Michelin. “He was a great kid to coach because he didn’t come with a lot of excuses. But you could tell by his performances that the edge wasn’t there.”
The long-time coach employed an unusual strategy to help the 4 x 100 relay team come almost out of nowhere to secure a top 5 finish in Charleston. Leadoff runner Hampton ran like he had a date for the ETHS prom later Saturday evening — he did — and the senior foursome picked the perfect day to put it all together in the same race.
When Michelin found out in advance that the Wildkit relay would run its preliminary race in Lane 8 on Friday, he made the quartet run timed practice races in that lane at ETHS on the Tuesday before the meet to help more with the mental adjustment than the physical.
“Lane 8 is definitely not a preferred lane, not like 4-5-6-7,” Michelin said. “It was a psychological thing because I wanted to show them that we could still be one of the 9 teams to make it to the finals, even coming out of that lane. And they ran three straight races in 42 plus seconds.
“Today was the first time they’ve all run well in the same race. I thought Hampton did a great job of setting the tone (in the leadoff spot). He stepped in after Sacrad Michelin tweaked his hip and Myles kept his spot and helped that team mesh together.
“We had a fantastic effort today running out of Lane 1. They proved that it doesn’t matter what lane you’re in if you just go out there and execute.”
In the triple jump, Wilburn got an up-close view of the state record leap of 51 feet, 1 inch by Cameron Ruiz of Lakes. The ETHS junior was unable to improve on his own personal best leap from Friday’s prelims with jumps of 43-3, 46-3 and 45-1 on Saturday, and that allowed one other jumper — Jean Luc Soglohun of East Moline — to pass him in the final individual standings.
But in his second trip to Charleston, Wilburn proved he belongs with the “big boys” and he is one of only three underclassmen who made it to Saturday’s finals.
“I think everything went a lot better for me down here this year,” said Wilburn, who was eliminated in the prelims in 2016. “And it was really amazing to watch Cam get that 51-footer. It was really cool to see him break that state record.
“I was a little disappointed that the one jumper passed me and I couldn’t get it back. I was trying to go for 47 today, and at first I didn’t even know that the jumps from yesterday carried over (to determine final places). It definitely would have helped me relax a little if I had known that earlier.
“Yesterday my second and third phases felt like they were the strongest. I got that 46-9 on my second jump and when I looked down in the pit, I knew it was a good one. I haven’t had a PR since last year, so I was pretty happy to see that. My whole goal coming down here was to make it to the finals and get a medal.
“I think my hamstring is fully recovered now. When I look at the entire year, it did hold me back and it was frustrating for a bit. But I’m here now — and now it’s all good.”