CHARLESTON, Ill. – Abrielle Artley wasn’t interested in another second-place finish.

So while teammate Dawson Wright became the first state shot put gold medalist in the history of the Evanston Township High School girls track program, Artley lived up to the past ETHS championship legacy in the 300-meter hurdle race here Saturday at the Illinois High School Association state finals at Eastern Illinois University.

ETHS senior Abrielle Artley wins the gold medal in the 300-meter hurdles May 20 at the Illinois High School Association state finals. Credit: ETHSports Twitter

It’s an event that Evanston runners have owned during the state series ever since it began. Artley, who placed second in the race last year, recorded a winning time of 43.25 seconds after finishing second in state in the 100 hurdles earlier in the day in 14.35 seconds.

Both times were personal bests for the Evanston senior, helping Evanston to a seventh-place finish in the team standings with a total of 31 points. Huntley claimed the Class 3A team title with 62.5 points.

Artley’s determined effort in the longer hurdle race enabled her to hold off runner-up Aisha Kazeem of Palatine, second in 43.48. Artley accounted for the 10th state title earned by an Evanston runner in that race in the history of the state finals, and the first since Margaret Bamgbose in 2012.

Shalina Clarke captured four titles in that race in her Hall of Fame career at Evanston in the mid-2000s, and current ETHS assistant coach Tameeka McFarlane, who worked closely with Artley, won it in both 1996 and 1997.  Natasha Foreman claimed the gold medal in 1998.

The University of Nebraska-bound Artley took advantage of the fact that the runner who beat her in the 300 finals last year, longtime rival Ana-Liese Torian of Homewood-Flossmoor, abruptly dropped out of the competition prior to Friday’s preliminary races.

That cleared a path for Artley, but it still wasn’t easy.

“I flashed back to last year and I just couldn’t accept second place again. I’m not that competitive when I’m not in athletics, but I am when it’s anything to do with athletics. I always want to be aggressive,” said Artley.

“I wish she [Torian] had raced because I was looking forward to racing against her this year. I like good competition. I’m just happy with the outcome today, happy to be where I am. I’m very proud and it’s very satisfying.”

Artley’s “refuse to lose” mentality was sharpened after her runner-up performance in the short hurdle race, won by Conant freshman Daisha Brunson in a quick 14.16. It marked redemption of a sort for the Evanston senior, who missed out on a potential medal in that race a year ago because she failed to qualify out of the sectional, hitting a hurdle and falling to knock her out of the running.

‘Feels so good’

Then, there was the matter of living up to that hurdles legacy.

“It feels so good, it’s such a relief to get this done,” said Artley, whose mother Tranquil Wilson is also one of the team’s assistant coaches. “The 300 is very challenging. It requires a lot of technique and you really have to push yourself mentally too.

“But I didn’t see it [the history of success by others] as pressure. It was an inspiration for me. I just wanted to meet those expectations, or surpass them – if I could. Tameeka [McFarlane] is always pushing us to be better. She pushed me a lot, and she was always there to encourage me. And I think my speed work was a lot better this year. That was important to get me where I am now.”

Evanston head coach Fenny Gunter, always reluctant to compare his present runners with past stars, noted that Artley came to the hurdles from a background as a quarter miler (Saturday she led the ETHS 1600-meter relay team to a seventh-place finish in 4 minutes, 1.18 seconds) while past performers were primarily sprinters coming into the program.

Her state title came at the end of a season where she spent more time on the sidelines than any previous champ.

“I’m not sure any of those other girls could have accomplished that [state title]. We’ve never had a state champion who missed that much time due to illness and injuries,” Gunter said. “She earned that title in her last race. She didn’t give up.

Grit and determination

“She turned out to be tougher than some of our other dominant girls. She missed almost six weeks, where she wasn’t able to compete or train. She got by with her grit and determination, and by her talent too.

“We’ve never had anyone miss that much time and it stops your development when that happens. She was able to come through even with all that was holding her back. The coaching staff did a very good job in an uncontrollable situation. They didn’t force things, thinking hopefully that her talent would take over at the end. And that’s what happened today. To be able to put together what she did in such a short amount of time showed a lot of grit and determination on her part.”

Artley teamed up with Kai Strickland, Esther Mueller and Nyel Rollins for that seventh- place effort in the 1600 relay. Her leadoff leg, in the 55-second split range, gave the Kits a lead and they were still in first place halfway through the race before the rest of the field caught up.

Evanston’s other individual qualifiers, Strickland in the triple jump and sophomore Stella Davis in the 1600-meter run, were eliminated in Friday’s prelims. Strickland’s best effort was at 10.24 meters – 24th best among the hopefuls – while Davis was clocked in 5:17.09.     

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