Lauren Dain churned out another personal best effort Saturday at the Class 3A Glenbrook South regional cross country meet.
But Saturday was all really about “Team” for Dain and the members of the Evanston girls and boys cross country teams.
Both Wildkit squads kept their seasons alive on a sunny day in Glenview by advancing full teams to next Saturday’s Hoffman Estates Sectional.
Dain registered a sixth place individual finish, leading the ETHS girls to fourth place in the team standings, while the boys team finished tied for fifth with Glenbrook North. The top six teams will automatically move on to the sectional level next week.
Dain lowered her PR (personal record) to 18 minutes, 22.79 seconds over the three-mile course in near-perfect conditions, but got to that point again without watching the clock. The only senior in Evanston’s top seven this fall kept a closer eye on the competition – and her place near the front of the pack.
She didn’t challenge the front-runners – Glenbrook North freshman Maria Polyakov won the race in 17:33.73 – but knew that the higher she could place, the better Evanston’s chances would be on the scoreboard.
Mission accomplished. The Wildkits also counted a 13th by freshman Stella Davis in 18:54.77; a 16th by junior Maggie Gass in 19:21.54; a 36th by junior Ella Gutierrez in 20:48.95; and a 38th by freshman Fiona Vosper in 20:53.55.
“I was more focused on paying attention to my placement today,” said Dain. “We wanted to all qualify together, as a team, and I wanted to help the team any way I could. I just tried to feel out the other racers – that was the strategy. I looked at the people I wanted to stay up with and pushed myself to stay there. That makes it easier, when you don’t have to fight back from behind, and I just wanted to be consistent the entire race.
“I was working with a really good pack and that’s why I got that PR. It feels really good and now I’m feeling more confident in my ability with every race. As a team now, we have that mentality that there are opportunities out there [to advance to the Illinois High School Association state finals], and for me and for all of the girls, that’s really exciting.”
Head coach Rosette Ochoa was excited to see the gap narrow between her top seven competitors. Evanston’s No. 6 and No. 7 finishers, juniors Caroline Klearman and Sophie Milner Gorvine, didn’t count toward the team score but ran within 13 seconds of No. 5 finisher Vosper.
Those efforts left ETHS with 107 team points, easily enough to qualify as a team behind New Trier (50), Loyola Academy (72) and Hersey (102) but ahead of Central Suburban League South division rivals Glenbrook South (112) and Glenbrook North (132).
“Today was really just about that placement,” Ochoa agreed. “Our spread was a lot smaller and they were closer together than ever before. That’s easier said than done in a [big] meet like this. They all felt good after the race and running together lets them carry each other through. When that happens, the next thing you know you’ll be at the finish, thanking the other person you ran with.
“They set this goal of making it to the sectional and to be able to achieve it is such a good feeling. We didn’t want to run our best today, we just wanted to achieve a balance. I think the best is yet to come.”
Boys coach Donald Michelin Jr. is hoping for the same after a so-so showing Saturday. The Wildkits were missing their No. 2 runner, Solomon Greene, who was out sick all week and settled for a tie for fifth with 138 points, same as Glenbrook North.
New Trier breezed to the team title with 22 points, followed by Hersey with 79, Loyola Academy with 100 and Glenbrook South with 130.
Michelin’s disappointment was evident, because the Wildkits had outscored both GBN and GBS the previous week at the conference meet. Saturday, senior Essay Tolosa earned 10th place in 15:57.05, backed up by Dylan Eyler, 25th in 16:35.11; Henry O’Malley, 30th in 16:42.78; Sam Froum, 33rd in 16:45.89; and Paul Garcia, 40th in 16:57.65.
“We had a pretty good performance from our freshman [Froum] and Dylan picked it up today. That was a PR for him by seven or eight seconds,” said Michelin. “I thought this meet would be a cake walk for us, but I asked the guys not to take it lightly. It wasn’t a cakewalk. I’m not mad, I’m just shocked that some of these other teams were able to get past us. On paper, we’ve got what we need [to advance to State], but we just need to put it all together. We haven’t done that yet.”
The ETHS coach knows that in the early days of postseason competition for the sport, there was only one chance to advance, from the sectional to State. When the regional step was added, some purists thought another qualifying race was unnecessary.
Saturday’s competition basically only eliminated half of the teams entered, but a three-step State series allows teams to have an “off” day in a big meet and allows injured runners a second chance to get back in the lineup.
Greene’s return will make a big difference now that the Wildkits are still alive.
“Sometimes you need that extra step, and this extra step will give us time to regroup in a tough postseason,” said the coach.