Opportunity hasn’t knocked much lately for members of the Evanston Township High School girls track and field program who wanted to add Central Suburban League South division titles to their resumes.

Head coach Fenny Gunter has been known to have his top individuals – even defending champions in some events – train right through the conference championship meet with designs on bigger and better finishes leading to state medals.

Add the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the CSL South meet in 2020, and wet weather conditions forced Gunter to scratch most of his varsity hopefuls out of the meet in both 2021 and 2022, and there haven’t been many opportunities for conference golds.

But Dawson Wright and Abrielle Artley made the most of their chances Thursday, May 4, at Maine South. The pair accounted for four individual titles and led the Wildkits to a third-place finish in the team standings with 85 points.

Evanston’s Abrielle Artley in front at the Central Suburban League South meet May 4 at Maine South.

Wright, an ex-sprinter who never picked up either implement in her first couple of seasons competing in the ETHS program, captured conference titles in the shot put (12.36 meters) and discus throw (33.20 meters) and Artley swept to top honors in both hurdles races, winning the 100-meter race in 15.16 seconds and establishing a new CSL record in the 300 hurdles with a 43.79 time that erased the previous mark set by former Evanston star Margaret Bamgbose (44.04) back in 2012.

Best for last

Artley saved her best for last, though.

Just minutes after her record run in the hurdles, the senior standout blazed her way to a split of 55.54 seconds on the final lap of the day to lift Evanston’s 1600-meter relay team to a winning time of 4 minutes, 2.04 seconds to account for the other Wildkit victory.

The Wildkits also counted runner-up finishes from Stella Davis, 2:18.81 in the 800; Ava Russell, 11.51 meters in the shot put; Kai Strickland, 10.95 meters in the triple jump; and the 800 relay team of Esther Mueller, Nyel Rollins, Mariah Gordon and Strickland, clocked in 1:50.07.

Evanston athletes pass the baton at the Central Suburban League South meet May 4 at Maine South. Credit: Evanston Girls Track and Field Facebook

Both Wright and Artley have prior experience competing on the sport’s biggest stage at the Illinois High School Association state finals at Eastern Illinois University. And both seniors recognize that the program’s focus has always been on what happens on that final May weekend of the season.

Still, they won’t trade the medals they won Thursday in Park Ridge.

‘Cool’ to be a champ

“I wasn’t really worried about winning a conference championship. I just wanted to get to 12 meters,” said Wright. “But it’s pretty cool to be a conference champ.

“It was a challenge for me when we went from inside to outside, going from a rubber shot to steel. I didn’t have the best first meet and it was different for me where it might not be for others because this is my first time outdoors and the release is different. I’ve been working on my release, on not popping up so fast [in midthrow] and looking at the sky at the end [to elevate her attempts].

“We haven’t had many full meets so I’ve actually had many throw-offs with the boys [in the ETHS program]. It’s not just for practice, it’s to learn about competing too. Now that we’re outside all I want to do is throw, throw, throw. I am surprised that I’ve done so well, and I feel like now I’m just starting to get it. Now I’m going for 13 [meters] – and I know I can do it.”

Wright uncorked a personal best discus throw on her third attempt Thursday and beat pre-meet favorite Siobhan Derrig of Maine South by a margin of 33.20 to 31.10. Both her winning shot and discus tosses topped the established IHSA state qualifying standards.

“I have to be more consistent with my release [in the discus], because sometimes I get too excited about the power part of the throw,” Wright said. “Now my goal is to go to State in both the shot and the discus. Every throw counts, and I’m just trying to do the best I can in the time I have left.”

More to do

Artley knows that to be part of Evanston’s hurdles legacy she has more to accomplish over the next couple of weeks. But taking down Bamgbose’s 300 record, which lasted 11 years, is a good start.

“It was very important for me because I feel like I’m so far behind [due to injuries and bad weather that cancelled meets this spring]. I knew this was another meet where I had the chance to put something on my record,” said Artley. “It was very important because I didn’t get the opportunity last year. I was so surprised by my time [in the 300 hurdles] because I’ve been consistently in the 44s, and getting to 43 is pretty big for me. But I wasn’t thinking about getting that record, not at all.

“I’m very grateful and very happy to be where I am now. I’m better and stronger and improving now and I’m very happy with the way things turned out today.”

Gunter pointed out that ETHS “had success the last two years we didn’t run at conference because we had a fresher set of legs. We’ll see how what they did today translates into a hotter sectional [next Wednesday at Glenbrook South] than we’re accustomed to.

“We’ve had so many girls in the past who understood that nobody remembers who won a conference championship. They didn’t make a big deal about that back in the day when I ran. You want to make sure they understand that OK, congratulations, you had a good meet, but you’ve gotta stay focused [for sectional and state tests]. You just have to stay grounded.” 

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