Character always counted for Don Michelin over the long course of his career as an educator and administrator in District 65, and nothing has changed for Evanston’s head boys track coach in that regard.
Character — and talent — can take a team a long way and the Wildkit track team showed at Saturday’s Prep Top Times meet in Bloomington that they have the ingredients to make a run at a trophy at the end of the outdoor season.
The invitation-only event that serves as an unofficial indoor state championship didn’t find the Kits piling up a lot of points at the Illinois Wesleyan University facility. Triple jumper Jonathan Wilburn earned a 3rd place finish and Evanston claimed 4th place finishes in both the 3200-meter and 1600-meter races in a solid-but-not-spectacular showing against some of the state’s elite athletes.
But the fact that the Wildkits earned a total of two relay and 6 individual spots at the meet — the most since Michelin took over the program for the late Willie May — is an indication that this could be a special season if the Kits can carry that momentum over to the outdoor campaign.
Add two individuals who didn’t compete Saturday — injured sprinter Denzel Thomas and pole vaulter Davis Patterson — who are expected to make an even bigger impact outdoors and Michelin can hardly contain his optimism.
“What this tells me (increased representation at the Top Times meet) is the character of this team. We have great senior leadership this year,” Michelin praised. “It’s all about the character these kids bring to the table. They really want to win. They remind me of the (state runnerup) 2015 team. We’ve had better talent than we had that year, but that team had such great character and they got the job done.
“I’m happy we came to this meet and were able to bring so many guys. I hope it lights a fire under this team and shows them just how close we are. We’ve got work to do — but it’s doable.”
Wilburn settled for a 3rd place finish in an event where none of the top jumpers approached their respective season bests. The top three placers were separated by only 2 and a half inches, with top seed Peyton Frankenreider of Yorkville taking top honors at 45-7.5 ahead of Oak Park’s Miles Molette-Hughes (45-6.5) and Wilburn (45-5.75). Evanston’s Matt Caines took 10th with a best of 43-5.5.
Evanston’s best moments came in the relays. The 3200 unit of junior Julion Michelin, senior Joe Eovaldi, sophomore Max Peterson and senior Logan Singer was only seeded 10th in the race but charged to a 4th place finish in 8 minutes, 3.45 seconds, a season best.
That foursome had turned in an 8:05 clocking the previous week in a meet at Mundelein, only to be disqualified when leadoff runner Michelin made a premature break to an inside lane. Officially, their seed time was just 8:17.16 coming into Saturday’s showdown.
“I think that 4 x 800 group came back and really made a strong statement today coming off that DQ,” Coach Michelin said. “They really showed their character.”
The younger Michelin started the race with a split of 2:01.10 and Singer finished it off with an anchor performance of 1:58.43, among his best splits this indoor season. Singer also placed 10th in the open 800 Saturday in 2:01.96.
Evanston did it the hard way in the final event of the day, the 1600 relay. The Wildkits weren’t even seeded in the fastest heat, but climbed into fourth after winning the next-to-last heat in 3:28.48. The foursome of Michelin, Wilburn, Ayoub El-Ashmawi and Will McMichael turned in a season best clocking, with McMichael bringing it home on the anchor leg in 51.70.
McMichael also took 6th in the open 400 in 51.76.
Also competing Saturday for ETHS were Julion Michelin, 53.16 in the 400 and Trey Dawkins, 52-4.75 in the shotput.
“We have four solid guys in both relays, and when we get our 4 x 200 right (if Thomas bounces back from a hamstring problem), we’ll be competitive there, too,” Coach Michelin added. “But when we get outdoors we’ll go with the guys in their best individual races, and then see how we can pull the relays together at the end.”