What figures to be a fierce boys track rivalry between Evanston and Glenbrook South will be played out both indoors and outdoors over the next several months.
But Round 1 belongs to the Wildkits.
A 1-2-3 finish in the final event of the day – the triple jump – lifted ETHS to a narrow 80-78 victory over GBS in the first major indoor test of the season on Presidents Day at the inaugural D117 Rockin’ Relays Invitational meet at Lakes High School.
The Evanston Township High School Wildkits helped christen the spectacular new Lakes fieldhouse, complete with a 200-meter track and large video display board, by scoring top six finishes in nine different events, including victories by Jaylan James in the triple jump, Matt Cless in the high jump and the sprint medley relay team of Boaz Lieberman, Skyler Lee, Kamau Ransom and Dylan Eyler at the 12-team meet.
James (42 feet, 2 inches), Julian Weber (41′ 9″) and Justin Thayaril (40′ 2″) provided the margin of victory for the Kits in the triple jump after ETHS and GBS were tied with 70 points apiece in the team standings prior to the final event. Point totals at the meet were determined by combining the efforts of the top three placers from each school in each event.
“This is a great start for us, and this is a great facility,” said Evanston head coach Don Michelin. “We beat Glenbrook South – on THIS day. Can we beat them at the indoor league meet? Can we beat them at the outdoor league meet, or at the sectional? That remains to be seen.”
Sprint medley formats vary from invitational to invitational and on Monday, the Kits captured that title over legs of 400, 200, 200 and 400 meters with a winning time of 2 minutes, 40.80 seconds. The quartet of Lieberman, Lee, Ransom and Eyler proved they can provide a solid foundation for Michelin to build more successful relays by the end of the spring outdoor campaign.
ETHS also placed runner-up in the 800 relay (1:35.53), third in the 3200 relay (8:47 flat), and third in the 1600 relay (3:40.86).
“We’ve lost the CSL South [Central Suburban League South division] over the past couple of years because we didn’t do well in the relays,” noted the veteran coach. “That’s a priority for us this year. We’ve got to do better there.”
Cless even shed a little blood to help the team cause Monday. His winning performance in the high jump of 2.03 meters (6′ 8″) was a personal best indoors and just off the 2.05 he recorded at the sectional last year outdoors. The lanky senior actually spiked himself in his right hand on his first attempt at 6′ 10″, then just missed at that height on his final try.
Cless is coming off a remarkable season in which he came out for track for the first time as a junior and wound up third at the Illinois High School Association state finals just weeks later. Now, instead of logically focusing on just that specialty, as many elite jumpers choose to do, Cless is branching out and contributing on the track too.
Michelin considered trying the talented senior in the triple jump, or in the hurdles, but his natural speed and the fact that he now ranks as one of the fastest sprinters on the squad will likely see him shift to the open 100 and 200 when the track season shifts outdoors.
Monday, Cless finished fourth in the 60-meter dash in 7.15 seconds and also ran a leg on the 800 relay team.
“Matt’s helping us out in other areas this year. We thought about him in the triple jump or the hurdles, but running sprints is easier on his knees, and he’s one of the fastest guys we have,” Michelin said. “Running all-out like he does doesn’t seem to affect his knees as much, and having him on the track has increased our ability to do well down the line as a team now.”
Cless has already earned a scholarship to Auburn University and doesn’t need the addition of track events to pad his resume for college recruiters. Still, he chose an unselfish path.
“I know I’m probably only going to high jump in college,” he said. “And I still work mainly on that in practice. I’m still a little slow out of the [starting] blocks because I’m not used to them. But you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to help your team win a state championship, and that’s what I want to do.
“There were a lot of people here today and a lot of great competition, so pretty much matching what I did last year already is kinda neat. I’ve had tendinitis that’s been bothering me in my left knee, but I felt good today.
“Last year when I jumped I just fed on adrenaline [raw on technique], and my approach wasn’t good. Now I’m just trying to get the proper form and improve on my approach. Today my leg kick was a little late [on the final jump], but I’ll have it figured out by state.”
“This is a terrific start to the season for Matt,” said ETHS assistant coach Kevin Caines, who focuses on the jumpers. “But I’m not surprised. Now he’s a legitimate sprinter, too, and I know that will be a good experience for him. He’s a competitor and he really does enjoy sprinting. The team outcome is what matters to him.
“That 6′ 8″ is nice to see and there are still things he needs to improve on. Technically, he’s figured out more about his approach. It’s still not 100%, but once he does that consistently, he’s got bigger jumps ahead of him.”
Also scoring top six individual places for ETHS Monday were Tim Russell, second in the shot put at 15.73 meters; Weber, second in 9.31 in the 60-meter hurdles; Eddie Roman, sixth in the 60 hurdles in 10.13; Thayaril; and sophomore Oliver Hassard, who tied for sixth in the high jump.