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Kalil Johnson dominated the hurdles competition at another major invitational Saturday.
Just wait ‘til the weather warms up.
The Evanston senior broke the Deerfield Invitational record in the 110-meter high hurdles, winning in 14.49 seconds, and then established his own personal best on his way to a triumph in the 300 hurdles, breaking 40 seconds for the first time in his career with a clocking of 39.46.
The Wildkits mustered only one other first-place finish – by Matt Cless in the high jump – in an otherwise lackluster performance, however, and settled for sixth place in the team standings.
In what Johnson himself termed a “dress rehearsal” for the sectional qualifying meet next month, the Wildkits totaled just 56 points and trailed Glenbrook South (106), Prospect (82.5), Deerfield (80), New Trier (67) and Warren (57) in the 18-team field.
“We lost to some teams we don’t usually lose to today. We’ve got work to do,” said a concerned Evanston head coach, Don Michelin. “We have a tradition to uphold and that will continue to be our motivation. The injury bug has bitten us a little bit. We’re not where we should be as a team, and I take the responsibility for that. Kalil has been steady for us and Matt Cless has been a great surprise this year. We need to build around their successes.
“Kalil ran well again today. He’s not real outspoken, but the leadership he shows is I’m here every day, to stand up for the Orange and Blue. I think the best is yet to come for him when the weather gets warmer.”
Johnson rose to the occasion Saturday like the competitor he always is. He was the only competitor to break 15 seconds in the short hurdles race, with Deerfield’s Max Wilhelm second in 15.08, and wiped the old meet mark of 14.54 off the books.
In the 300 hurdles, Johnson entered the race seeded third behind both Wilhelm and Glenbrook South’s Nate Shapiro. Shapiro opted out of the race after hurting his ankle while winning the long jump, and Johnson surged past Wilhelm with 60 meters left in the race to win by a margin of 39.46 to 40.27.
ETHS assistant coach Kevin Caines said Johnson “put together all three phases of the race” for the first time in the longer race, and for Johnson, that meant a better start while attacking the first three hurdles.
“I know I broke the record in the 110 hurdles, but that wasn’t really the time I wanted,” said Johnson. “But I finally got a [personal record] in the 300 and I’m real happy about that.
“Coach Caines has worked this whole week with me to get out fast, and then keep up the pace after that. And I really appreciate Coach Michelin helping me with workouts in the pool [twice a week], too. Getting those fast starts is, to me, more mental than physical. I believe my body is strong enough [to start fast and still have enough gas in his tank for a strong finish], but I don’t trust it enough yet. I need to trust myself.
“That Deerfield kid really pushed me today. At one point in the race I thought, how am I going to pass this dude? But I got out fast and just kept gaining speed, and I was super happy with that race. I was happy to get a chance to race against someone who is really up there in the State.
“I was a little disappointed I didn’t get a chance to run against the GBS kid. I know he’d really push me and I would’ve had a great time because of that. Today was basically a great chance for me to get a feel for the sectional meet. This will help me prepare for that meet.”
Cless topped the field in the high jump with a best effort of 1.85 meters – that’s 6 feet and 3 quarters of an inch to those who haven’t converted to the metric system – and also contributed a fourth in the triple jump, at 12.59 meters (41 feet, 3.75 inches).
Also scoring top five finishes for Evanston were Sebastian Cheeks, third in the 110 hurdles in 15.56; and Justin Tharayil, fourth in the high jump at 1.70 meters.