Ever since the Suburban League morphed into the Central Suburban League back in the 1970s, Evanston has dominated the competition – both indoors and outdoors – in boys track.
The Wildkits won the CSL South division indoor championship meet for 10 years in a row between 2007 and 2017 and usually aren’t seriously challenged in the team race.
Maybe it’s the end of an era now for Evanston. They made the kind of history last Friday at Willie May Fieldhouse they certainly weren’t seeking, as for perhaps the first time in history, the Kits didn’t win a single race and fell short in their bid to repeat as indoor champions.
Glenbrook South won the last race of the meet, the 1600-meter relay, and snatched the team title by a 137-136 margin over the disappointed hosts.
Evanston chalked up victories in the shot put, high jump and triple jump but couldn’t muster any individual or relay wins on the track.
Veteran head cross country coach Don Michelin knew there were plenty of opportunities to make up just one point in the team standings. But the Kits still fell short.
“It’s going to be like this all season between us and GBS,” Michelin said. “Right now they’re better at closing the show than we are. They had a lot of first-place finishes on the track, and you’ve gotta have those first-place finishes [to win a team title]. We need to do a better job of sealing the deal in the last two or three events. We’ve just got to get better.”Close losses by Vorn Ellis in the 400-meter dash – by 1/100th of a second – and again in the 200 dash – by 8/100ths of a second – and a controversial finish in the 3200 denied the Wildkits the first-place plaque. Evanston also ran third in the final race, when a runnerup finish would have created a deadlock with GBS.
Ellis led most of the way in the 400 against the pre-meet favorite, Ronan O’Neill of New Trier, but the Trevian runner nudged his shoulder past Ellis at the finish line for a winning time of 52.56 to 52.57 for Ellis.
The Evanston senior also settled for runnerup honors in the 200, losing to Glenbrook South standout Nate Shapiro by a margin of 23.47 to 23.55.
“Vorn Ellis did all he could do for us. I couldn’t ask for more,” Michelin said. “He lost by this much in the 400. If we win that one, we win the meet. What came back to hurt us was what happened in the 3200. Let’s start there, but we didn’t help ourselves when we could have, either.”
In the 3200, race leader Joey Karlesky of Maine South stopped running after 19 laps but was still declared the winner of the 20-lap race after a meet official mistakenly – and prematurely – rang the bell that signals the final lap in distance races. Evanston’s Solomon Greene was second in the race and would have been the winner in the identical scenario at an Illinois High School Association sectional or state meet, with Karlesky listed as “did not finish” officially in the results.
Instead, the games committee at the meet – consisting of all of the head coaches in the CSL South – voted to award the victory to Karlesky.
Michelin was the only coach to vote against that ruling. The difference between a possible 10 points to 8 actual points for ETHS made all the difference in the world.
“The other coaches didn’t feel a kid should be penalized for an adult’s error,” said Michelin. “But I voted the way I did because our guy ran 20 laps and the other guy didn’t. The coaches kept going back to the fact that the bell rang early and that kid shouldn’t be penalized, but my kid was penalized because he did run 20 laps.
“Solomon told me he felt he could maybe close the gap on that guy on the last lap. But we’ll never know.”
Highlight of the meet for the Wildkits was the performance of triple jumpers Jalen James and Julian Weber. Both competitors earned personal bests on their way to a 1-2 finish, with James’ best of 12.97 meters beating out his teammates’ top jump of 12.86. Also scoring championships for ETHS were Tim Russell, 16.25 meters in the shot put, and Matt Cless, 2.0 meters in the high jump.
“Our triple jumpers didn’t even get on the board for us last week [at the Dan Phillips Relays], so this was a good turnaround for them. They put us in position to win the meet,” said Michelin.
“I felt really good on that [winning] jump,” said James. “I got the height I needed, stretched out and kept my knees up. That third phase was the best I’ve done all year. I was able to keep my leg up and get the full rotation that I needed. It’s huge for me to win this, and my teammate [Weber] got a PR [personal record] too. It helps a lot to go up against him every day in practice. I learn a lot from watching his form. We push each other. Last year, I was way better in the long jump than the triple jump. But the triple jump is by far my best event right now. Last year my PR was about 11 meters and now I’m hoping to get over 13. Hitting that mark going into outdoors will definitely raise my hopes.”
Ellis paced the Wildkits to a third-place finish in the team standings the next day at the Lake Michigan Invitational held at Carthage College in Wisconsin. Evanston’s 54 points trailed only Warren (92) and Maple Park Kaneland (72) even though Michelin rested several competitors and Cless didn’t participate in the high jump.
Ellis won the 200-meter dash in 23.27 seconds, combined with Cless, Skyler Lee and Chase Cubia to finish second in the 800 relay in 1:34.95, and teamed with Lee, Cless and Kamau Ransom to place third in the 1600 relay in 3:35.34.
Russell earned second in the shot at 53 feet, 7 inches and Evan Siegel ran third in the 55 hurdles in 8.27.