Red-hot ETHS takes Illinois track crown

Jim Martinho

Entering the final stretch of the 4×400-meter relay at Saturday’s Illinois girls’ track championships, Evanston Township High School’s Coretta Evans was nearly overtaken by a Thornwood runner.

The senior held on to win the meet’s final event, but by that point she was running for pride alone — the Wildkits had already clinched their first title since 1998.

After two straight second-place finishes, ETHS finally toppled four-time defending champion Morgan Park with an 87-point performance that included a sweep of the three sprint relays at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill.

Evans, a member of all three victorious relay teams, rushed home after the meet with fellow seniors Jamila Smith and Mya Edwards to attend their senior prom.

But Saturday’s meet served more as a coming-out party for the Wildkits class of 2006. Freshman Shalina Clarke set a state-record by winning the 300 hurdles in 41.98 seconds in addition to a fourth-place finish in the 200 and a fifth in the 100. First-year runners Demeca Hill and Morgan Pointer each won gold in the relays.

The championship was the fourth for ETHS since Fenton Gunter took over the program in 1991. After falling short the past two seasons, Gunter said experienced upperclassmen and year’s freshman class helped the Wildkits unseat Morgan Park, who placed second with 68 points.

“Our girls weren’t mature enough to be in the individual events,” Gunter told the Chicago Tribune. “They needed to be groomed for about two years. With the freshman class that came in this year, they came into the program and … it just took off.”

The Mustangs have won seven of the last 10 state titles. Both teams will be back strong next season — ETHS loses three seniors, and Morgan Park loses four to graduation.

In last Friday’s sectional meet, the Wildkits were edged by Palatine for the team title — the first time the team failed to win a sectional meet since 1984. But the team’s success in the relay events — which Morgan Park usually dominates — ensured the Wildkits would play second banana to no one. The Wildkits won four of the five relays, and the 4×200-meter relay team of Evans, Edwards, Hill and Traciann Henry set a Class AA and Illinois record of 1:37.97.

“It’s good to see the kids, regardless of the outcome, just be competitive,” Gunter told the Tribune. “They were extremely competitive. We only had three seniors on the track. Our freshmen were just outstanding. The whole squad just performed.”