Editor’s note: Dennis Mahoney wrote this story and Cross Country team dads Brian Schunemen and Kevin Malia took the pictures.

The Wildkit girls, who placed fourth in the team standings on Saturday at the Class 3A Wheeling Regional at Heritage Park, automatically qualified its full team to the Hoffman Estates Sectional, and will be at Busse Woods next Saturday.

Here is the race’s end with Stella Davis (1969), Sammy Schuneman (1979) and Rory Malia (1975) heading to the finish line. Credit: Kevin Malia

The team was paced by a 12-13-14 individual finish by teammates Stella Davis, Sammy Schuneman and Rory Malia.

For the Wildkit girls, Schuneman and Malia continued to close the gap between them and Davis. All three will likely have a chance to advance through the sectional as individuals if they continue to improve.

Davis was clocked in a slower-than-expected 19:16.84, compared with 19:17.11 for Schuneman and 19:21.55 for Malia. Next best for Evanston were senior Ella Gutierrez, 32nd in 20:40.63, and freshman Sam Caldwell, 39th in 21:12.11.

Davis, a sophomore who also qualified for the sectional last season, said her timing was off because none of the expected contenders broke out to a big lead with a fast pace early in Saturday’s race.

“It was a really weird race,” Davis said. “We were all confused at the end of the race when we saw our times. Everyone just went out slow. My goal was to keep up with the No. 2 girl from GBS because I thought that would be about an 18:30 pace, but now I’m thinking that wasn’t the right strategy.

ETHS girls cross country team takes off at the start of Saturday's regional meet.

“But it was good to have Sammy and Rory right up there with me. We’ve had good practices and it’s good for us not to have such a gap [between finishers]. I’m still not used to being the No. 1 runner – it’s hard not to have people around that you’re trying to catch up to like last year – but it’s also motivation for me because I know I have to do well for the team.

“I’m trying not to get hung up about my time today. Placing is more important, especially at the sectional. I need to place better this year to make it to state and I might keep my eyes on the Loyola runners next week. Their No. 2 girl ran an 18:30 today and that’s my goal for next week.”

“I’m excited that all three of them were so close today,” said Wildkit girls coach Beth Arey. “I would have liked to see one of them take it out a little more, but today showed me that we have a lot of potential in our top two or three runners that’s been untapped. They haven’t been that close together before today.

“Maybe I didn’t push some of them enough at the beginning of the season [Schuneman, a sophomore, and Malia, a freshman, are both first-time competitors in cross country for this first-year head coach.

“Now they’re a lot more successful in practice and they’re able to translate that into the races, and that’s awesome! Now I’m a lot more confident about the sectional because I think some of them can make it as individuals.”

A wildcard in Evanston’s team longshot bid could be Caldwell, who moved into the varsity lineup this week after placing seventh in the Central Suburban League South division frosh-soph meet and led the first part of that race.

Her time at the regional was just five seconds off her season personal record.

“I put her in the lineup because I put my trust in her commitment and passion for the sport,” explained Arey. “She has a drive you don’t see in a lot of young athletes these days.” 

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