Ever since he took over the Evanston boys cross country program, Donald Michelin Jr. has tried to get his runners to embrace a “pack attack” theory of racing instead of focusing on individual achievement.
The Evanston coach even admitted to at one point giving up on the idea of stressing that strategy for the postseason this fall – until Torin Ravi showed his teammates the way to succeed.
Ravi and three of his teammates raced within 3 seconds of each other Saturday as the Evanston boys team placed third in the team standings at the Class 3A Wheeling Regional meet held at Heritage Park and easily advanced a full squad to next week’s Hoffman Estates Sectional.
Also qualifying were the Wildkit girls, who placed fourth in the team standings, paced by a 12-13-14 individual finish by teammates Stella Davis, Sammy Schuneman and Rory Malia.
The top six teams automatically qualified full teams to the sectional, set for next Saturday at Busse Woods.
New Trier topped the boys standings with 33 points, followed in order by Hersey (42), Evanston (100), Glenbrook South (135), Niles North (142) and Glenbrook North (150) in the 11-team field.
On the girls side, Loyola Academy placed four runners in the top eight for a team score of 39 to beat out Hersey (67), New Trier (84), Evanston (110), Glenbrook South (122) and Glenbrook North (143).
Ravi, a senior who has endured an injury-plagued running career for the Wildkits, showed the way with a 16th-place finish in 16 minutes, 27.07 seconds over the hilly 3-mile test at Heritage Park.
Right on the heels of the team’s No. 1 runner – for the first time this fall – were Henry O’Malley, 17th in 16:27.57; Sam Froum, 19th in 16:31.52; and David Choldin, 20th in 16:32.09. Sophomore Arber Bombaci made sure the Kits would survive and advance by contributing a 28th-place finish in 16:53.72.
Honing a pack mentality
Ravi’s leadership made the difference Saturday and could spur his teammates to a similar performance in their team bid at the sectional.
“They’re becoming believers because they’ve been training with Torin and now they’re right there with him,” Michelin said. “Everyone wants to get a PR [personal record] and be an individual superstar, so you don’t see much pack running in our sport these days. But it’s about team morale and feeling good as a team.
“We’ve been packing in practice, but in the past it’s been a tough sell to get it done at a meet. We got away from it in midseason because everyone was so competitive. Then I noticed that on our long run days Torin was encouraging them and telling them yes, you can do it. It’s just happening naturally. Now they have a different mindset.”
“We packed up pretty well today, and what really matters is our placing,” said Ravi. “We had a plan to go out conservative [as a foursome] and try to move up together, and that’s basically what we did today.
“We’ve been talking about packing a lot more lately and I’m happy we were able to do it today. I’m hoping we can qualify for state now as a team. I think we’re good enough.”
Michelin is just happy to have back a senior captain who has missed most of the past two seasons with bad knees and hasn’t been able to contribute much.
“Torin’s had to work through a lot of ailments and he was so far behind the eight ball,” noted the ETHS coach. “But he’s been so consistent this year and it’s really motivating for all of us. He has the other guys’ attention and he’s bringing the rest of them along. He’s really been spot on for us all year.”
“I’ve been able to stay injury-free this year and it feels great,” Ravi added. “I did more weight lifting to keep my legs stronger and that’s really helped. I requested weight lifting for my junior year gym class and lifted twice a week. I’ve found that lifting and running need to be combined for me to be successful.”