Lauren Dain’s success came because she stopped watching the clock.
Stella Davis couldn’t be sure she believed what she saw on the clock.
The two Evanston runners used different approaches Saturday but scored top-10 individual finishes at the Central Suburban League cross country championship meet at Maine East.
Dain placed eighth in a time of 18 minutes, 38.70 seconds and Davis finished 10th in 18:41.26 on a windswept and chilly three-mile course where the CSL North and CSL South fields were combined for one championship race.
The dynamic duo led the Wildkits to fourth place in the South team standings with 92 points, just edged out for third by Glenbrook South at 91. Maine South (40) and New Trier (52) finished 1-2. Glenbrook North freshmen Maria Polyakov and Juliet Frum captured the top two individual places in the overall field.
Dain, a senior, has surged in the second half of the season after deciding it was more to her advantage mentally to ignore the stopwatch and just focus on racing.
Combined with the influx of talent provided by freshman Davis, the early frontrunner for the program this fall, Evanston now has a 1-2 punch that hasn’t been seen in the girls program for at least 20 years.
Saturday, the Wildkits also counted Margaret Gass, 16th in 19:23.20; Caroline Klearman, 28th in 21:05.29; and Ella Gutierrez, 30th in 21:19.14. Also competing for ETHS were Fiona Vosper, 31st in 21:66.44 and Sophia Milner-Gorvine, 33rd in 21:51.22.
Having two runners competing for the No. 1 spot on the squad has brought out the best of both of them, according to ETHS head coach Rosette Ochoa. “It’s really exciting because even Eyaeva [Michelin, a state runnerup as a senior] didn’t have someone to work out with like that every day in practice,” Ochoa said. “All season they’ve been focused and happy and strong, and once they started running together in races, they really took off.
“Lauren looked so strong today, like she knows where she belongs – at the top [in big meet fields]. A lot of the top runners don’t have someone to run with, but Lauren and Stella help each other every day, and that’s huge.
“Stella came into today with a goal time and she beat it. She keeps surprising herself. She loves running, works hard and she has the talent too. All mixed together, that’s a tough combination.”
“Today was a PR [personal record] for me by 12 seconds,” Dain said. “That’s great because I’ve been trying not to have too many expectations when it comes to my times lately. In the past, I just put too much pressure on myself. I’ve been running for seven years and that’s a big change for me. That change in my mindset really helped me today.
“This year I think I’m more dedicated and more focused than I have been in the past. Stella and I push each other – I love it when she does well – and we try to work with each other to stick together in races. My goal today was to be in the 18:30s heading into the postseason, so hopefully I can continue to drop time in the next couple of races.”
Davis, on the other hand, did a double-take when she glanced at the finish line clock on Saturday.
“I had to squint to make sure I saw it was 18, not 19,” she said with a laugh. “The weather was perfect today, for me, and this is such a fast course. It didn’t feel like I ran that fast, and I’m so thrilled I was able to drop time like that.
“There was a big pack at first and I just tried to stay with a girl from New Trier. I started to push it in the third mile because our goal was to split up New Trier’s pack, and we did a good job of that. I still need to work on keeping my focus in the second mile, but I managed to keep my head in the game in that third mile.”
Both Dain and Davis, at the very least, hope to deliver sectional qualifying runs at next week’s Glenbrook South Regional meet. It won’t be the first big-meet experience for Davis, who competed for Haven Middle School’s successful program and placed second in the state in cross country as an eighth grader.
But the adjustment to the three-mile distance and a heavier meet schedule – not to mention her first year in high school as a student – was another challenge for the freshman.
“I’d never run 3-mile races before, so I had to get used to the workload and I had to learn how to manage a race,” Davis said. “I definitely struggled with my pacing at first. It’s always been my goal to run in the 18s, so now I have a better idea of just what I’m capable of. This will put me in a good mindset for the races coming up.”