Sam Froum has spent a lot of time in the pool recently.

But don’t get the idea that the rising sophomore plans to abandon Evanston’s cross country team in favor of the swim program any time soon.

Water workouts that helped Froum rehabilitate a bad back paid off as he led the Wildkits to an 11th place team finish Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates Sectional meet.

Sam Froum cheered on by Coach Donald Michelin Jr. Credit: Brian Schuneman

Evanston didn’t come close to challenging for one of the seven automatic team spots available to advance to next Saturday’s Illinois High School Association state finals in Peoria. And Froum’s 57th place individual finish as the Wildkits’ top placer didn’t earn any headlines, either.

But Froum turned in a personal best time of 15 minutes, 59.62 seconds over the challenging three-mile course at Busse Woods after missing most of the team’s training over the past two weeks.

Froum worked out twice a week in the pool with Evanston head track coach Don Michelin Sr. to get back to 100% after being sidelined by a back problem following the Pat Savage Invitational held at Niles West in early October. And he saved his best for last while showing promise for the future for an ETHS squad that featured five underclassmen among its top seven lineup in the postseason.

At the sectional, the Kits also counted a 60th place by junior Henry O’Malley in 16:02.21; a 70th place by senior Torin Ravi in 16:11.72; a 72nd place by sophomore Arber Bombaci in 16:12.10; and a 77th place by senior David Choldin in 16:16.87. Evanston’s other entries were sophomore Emmitt Wilson, 98th place in 16:42.27; and junior Jack Kleinschmit, 108th place in 16:53.90.

Froum was a portrait in pain when he reclined on the floor of the fieldhouse that day at Niles West, but battled back in time to run at the regional. He continued those pool workouts under Michelin Sr., who believes strongly in that method when it comes to dealing with injured runners.

Now his son – ETHS cross country head coach Donald Michelin Jr. – is also becoming a believer.

“My dad just kills them with those workouts in the pool, but they work,” said Michelin Jr. “Maybe I should have had the whole team try them. I know they did Sam a lot of good. Those workouts are phenomenal!

“Sam is 30 seconds [faster] than he was last year and he’s still developing as a runner. He’s come a long way for us and he is always dying to know what he can do to get better. He really hasn’t run at all the past two weeks, except for one tempo run he wanted to try this week.”

“I had some tightness in my hips and hamstring after that Pat Savage meet,” Froum said. “That was my best race before today, but I couldn’t even walk or run right after that race. I didn’t run for four days, and then I probably came back too soon because it really hurt a lot after the conference meet.

“I did feel better after the regional and I didn’t feel bad today. Those pool workouts,” he added, referring to “aqua jogging” which consists of wearing a vest that keeps your feet off the bottom of the pool] “really helped. Today I just tried to stay calm and not freak out during the race. My goal the whole season was to work down below 16 minutes, and I finally got there.  I took it a little easier today – I didn’t die out as hard in the second mile – so I had a little more left at the end.”

Michelin Jr.’s initial reaction was disappointment at not qualifying a full team for the Illinois High School Association finals. But the more the ETHS coach considered the results, the easier it was to accept the team finish in light of the fact that the Wildkit runners recorded personal best times in almost every instance.

ETHS boys cross-country team portrait. Credit: Ted Froum

Team qualifiers included Palatine (60 points), Lake Zurich (100), New Trier (111), Prospect (133), Hersey (139), Barrington (140) and Conant (162). Evanston totaled 314 points, beating out just three teams in the field.“I thought we looked good enough to fight for that seventh spot with three or four other teams, and If I’d seen these times ahead of time, I would think we qualified,” said Michelin Jr. “I knew it would be a battle. The other teams just rose to the occasion. But hands down, this was our best race of the year. I know we could have done a whole lot better, but things are ramping up now [as far as the competition] post COVID 19. The last two years team averages have been super slow to get to state but they weren’t slow today.”

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