While fully intending to live up to his preseason vow to allow Evanston’s seniors a chance to run individual events this spring, head girls track coach Fenny Gunter isn’t ignoring the relays.

He’s considering all the options for lineups in a sport where big points are available in the 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 relay events.

One of those options took further shape on Saturday at the Homewood-Flossmoor Invitational. Junior Abrielle Artley, just a few minutes after placing second in the 300-meter hurdles, ran the leadoff leg on the 1600 relay and helped the Wildkits score an easy victory while breaking 4 minutes (at 3:59.40) for the first time this spring.

Artley cleared that physical hurdle and, as a result, might be in the relay mix when the competition gets serious in a couple of weeks. It’s not a challenge the breakout junior is exactly looking forward to.

Gunter had originally scheduled Artley to run two hurdle races and the 4 x 400 at last week’s Kankakee Invitational, then scratched the Kits out of that relay at the end of a long and chilly day.

He brought just five runners to H-F on a warm and windy day and Artley’s running load included the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and the 1600 relay. She teamed up with Jackie Okereke, Rikki Gray and Dystonae Clark to win the 1600 in a runaway.

The 800 team of Gray, Okereke, Clark and Kai Strickland ruled that race in 1:42.32 – a season best effort – after also placing third in the 400 relay in 49.18. Strickland contributed a seventh place in the open 200, in 27.05 as Evanston finished eighth in the eight-team field with 34 points.

Saturday was certainly a mixed bag for Artley. She was disqualified for a false start in the short hurdle race, then lost in the 300 hurdles for the first time this season to longtime rival Ana Liese Torian, the Class 3A defending state champion, despite lowering her season-best 300 time to a sizzling 44.90 seconds.

And Gunter – purposely – didn’t do her any favors physically by slotting her into the leadoff slot on the final relay, with less rest than those competing on the other legs.

“I was praying so hard in the relay, because I didn’t think I could do it,” admitted Artley. “God made a way for me to get through it. I just had to push through. I’m not sure I want to do it again, to be honest, but it’s a blessing for me to be part of the relay and I’m glad this opportunity opened up for me. I know this will make me stronger.”

Artley has competed against Torian since grade school and hasn’t come out on top very often in the head-to-head rivalry. Torian held her off Saturday with a winning time of 44.53, and both finalists accomplished those season-best times against a fierce headwind over the last half of the 300 race.

The ETHS junior also found out she could dig deep and fight back from adversity following that disqualification in the 100 hurdle prelims, a race she figured to win based on seed times.

“I was disappointed, but that really helped me stay humble,” she said. “I just had to move forward and stay focused after that. It was a little bit of a distraction, but it helped me push forward.

“I’ve been running against [Torian] for a long time. Today I was more aggressive and I was able to stick with her better. I just stayed focus on my own lane, my own hurdle, my own race and I didn’t let running against her overwhelm me today.

“I got down to the 44s [previous best was 46.19] and that’s such a big drop. But I really don’t think about my times, I just focus on getting better. I just want to be my best self, that’s the most important thing.”

 “That H-F girl came into high school hot, and because of injuries Abrielle has some catching up to do,” Gunter said. “But right now she’s our most consistent runner. She’s really made the commitment to making up for the last couple of years. She went from 45 to 43 seconds just like [former ETHS state champion] Gabrielle Mead did.

“Abrielle’s a hard worker who is still learning about herself. She’s very determined and there’s no telling what she’ll be able to do by the time she’s a senior.”

A senior who likely won’t get a chance to compete in a postseason open race, Clark, bounced back from a sub-par showing in the back half of the 400 relay with strong legs in the two other relays. She ran the anchor leg for the first time in the 1600 as Gunter continues to experiment with different orders and different combinations to get the Wildkits ready for prime time relay competition.

Evanston already enjoyed a big lead in the last race by the time Clark got the baton, but that didn’t take away from the senior’s performance.

“Dystonae’s not really comfortable running the anchor leg, but that’s where we needed her today,” said the coach. “We saw a couple of years ago that she’s an individual who can pick people up because she stays aggressive in her races. She stayed aggressive today or we wouldn’t have gone under four minutes.  She can excel in that spot.”

Gunter sent the rest of the squad to compete at the Carol Koszola Invitational hosted by Lake Park. The Wildkits earned a tie for seventh place in the 15-team field with 39 points, same as St. Ignatius. Prospect won the team title with 139.5 points. Maidison Hardamon scored individual wins in both the 200 (26.11) and 400 (59.49), and the Wildkits also counted runnerup finishes from Lauren Dain in the 3200 (11:58.06) and Olivia Whatley in the shot put (12.24 meters).

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