Evanston senior Kyla Stemen said much has changed about her approach to cross country since her high school career began.
“I feel like my mentality has changed since freshman year,” she said. “I used to be really nervous before a race. But I’ve gotten more aggressive and focused.”
Stemen, who finished sixth at Saturday’s Class 3A Niles West regional with a career-best time of 18 minutes, 13.00 seconds, said she also prepares heavily for each of her races these days.
“We get together (as a team) every Thursday and go over all the other teams and their times, we find (opponents) we want to run with,” she said. “(For the regional) I had specific girls I wanted to be running close to, and beat. We definitely had a plan.”
Wildkits coach Zach Herrmann said Stemen has had a fine senior campaign.
“She keeps reducing her time,” he said. “She’s a strong leader on the team. She’s one of our captains and a great model of work ethic, commitment and determination. She just doesn’t have a bad race. She approaches every race with the same level of seriousness and commitment, and she brings everyone else along.”
At the regional, Stemen helped elevate the performance of Wildkits freshman Emma Dzwierzynski, who ran alongside Stemen for much of the race. Dzwierzynski came in seventh with a career-best time of 18:13.90.
Those two runners were instrumental in the Wildkits’ second-place finish (66 points), which earned the team a spot at Saturday’s Lake Park Sectional.
Herrmann said the sectional is loaded, but Evanston has a chance to be one of the five teams to advance to next week’s state meet. The sectional includes powers like New Trier, York, Glenbard West, Oak Park-River Forest, Maine South, St. Ignatius and Loyola.
“We can absolutely be in the mix (to qualify for state),” Herrmann said. “There are a lot of teams in the mix, probably six teams (including Evanston) competing for that last spot to go downstate. There will be plenty of competition. Regardless of how we do, we’ve broken some barriers in terms of times and are heading in the right direction.”
If the team doesn’t qualify, Stemen and Dzwierzynski have a chance to reach state as top individuals from non-qualifying teams.
Other scorers for Evanston at the regional were junior Cami Zecker (15th, 19:06.10), sophomore Gabrielle Dinsmore (18th, 19:28.50) and senior Lydia Hoppingarner (20th, 19:36.10).
The Wildkits (184 points) finished sixth at the 10-team Niles West regional, earning the final qualifying spot for this week’s Lake Park Sectional.
Evanston seems unlikely to qualify for state as a team, though its top finisher from the regional, junior Carl Klamm (15th, 15:57.60), hopes to earn one of the individual spots.
Klamm said he’s still trying to get back to his best after suffering a hip injury earlier in the season.
“(Making state) has been my goal from the start of the season. Obviously, that was put into question because of my injury,” he said. “But I think I’m recovering well enough that I can put it out there. I think I can do it.”