One look at the weather – and at the calendar – was all it took Thursday to convince Evanston girls head track coach Fenny Gunter to use caution when it came to the number of entries the Wildkits had at the Central Suburban League South division championship meet.
With the Class 3A sectional meet only one week away, and cold and wet conditions at Glenbrook North High School, Coach Gunter decided to scratch just about all of the Wildkits from their scheduled events on the track at the varsity level.
No risk meant no potential injuries, like pulled hamstrings, as the Wildkits totaled almost all of their 45 team points in the field events. But it turned out to be a day that junior Olivia Whatley won’t forget – until she sets another personal record, of course.
A thrower with the potential to become one of the best in school history, Whatley won the shot put and placed third in the discus throw with a couple of PRs, that is, personal records, placed next to her name. She ruled the shot at 11.92 meters – or 39 feet, 1 inch – and came back with a personal best effort in the discus at 27.98.
How serious is Whatley as a competitor? She spent part of the otherwise idle time during the coronavirus pandemic throwing the shot around her own back yard and is now rounding into form that could threaten the ETHS school record of 43 feet, 11.5 inches established by Shola Kadiri in 1998.
Whatley topped her own previous best of 38-8, even though she fouled on 3 of her 6 attempts and couldn’t put the phases of the throw together for the most part on Thursday.
Shot putters always have difficulty maintaining their technique and the year-long layoff from workouts and competition due to COVID-19 created still another hurdle for the ETHS junior.
“This is a very technical sport,” said Whatley, “and it’s taking me awhile to get it together. I work on it every day for at least two hours, and during the pandemic I threw in my back yard and sometimes at the park.
“I like to challenge myself and see how much farther I can push myself. I’m able to get all of my aggression out when I’m throwing, too. I’m lucky because I have two great coaches to work with,” she said, referring to girls assistant Alex Thomas and boys assistant George Woolridge. “It feels great to win the conference – it wasn’t really a goal, it just kinda happened today – but I feel like I have so much more in me.”
Maybe as much as 45 feet, if you ask Coach Thomas.
“Olivia keeps improving every week, and we want her to be at her peak at the end,” said Coach Thomas. “We’ll definitely take that PR she got today. She’s climbing and getting better every meet, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.
“She could definitely hit 45 feet this year. I really think she has 45-plus in her. We got off to a rocky start [due to COVID and no indoor season this year], but we’re starting to click now. We couldn’t work together much because I ended up coaching football for nine months this year, but she practiced at home, recorded videos, and sent them to me to critique. It was hard for both of us.”
Whatley and New Trier sophomore Maeve Kelly were seeded just one inch apart in the shot before Whatley prevailed in what could be a budding rivalry over the next couple of years. Kelly settled for second in the shot, at 11.12 meters, but won the discus title at 30.28 meters.
Evanston only entered two track events, the open 3200 meters and the 3200 relay, and placed last in the team standings with 45 points. New Trier captured the team crown with 237 points, followed in order by Maine South (137), Glenbrook South (121), Glenbrook North (82), Niles West (53), and ETHS.
Senior Gabrielle Froum ran third in the 3200, in a personal best 12 minutes, 10.41 seconds, and trailed only Maggie Jortberg of Glenbrook South (11:45.97) and Olivia DeLuca of Maine South (11:54.41). The Wildkit foursome of Hannah Finkelstein, Caroline Klearman, Mollie Davis, and Ella Gutierrez combined for fourth in the 3200 relay in 10:27.85.
Junior Michelle Ogungbemi contributed a pair of top five finishes, earning fourth in the long jump (4.41 meters) and fifth in the triple jump (8.97), and sophomore Keira Tu scored a fourth in the high jump at 1.37.