EHS cross country teams celebrate 2021 season

Red Devil letter winners for the 2021 season include Kaden Wiley, Tanner Newsome, Kurtis Richins, Noah Conrad, Junior Zermeno, Hyrum Baxter, Derek Parks, Gideon Stahl and Paul Baxter. The Red Devils finished seventh as a team at the 2021 4A State Cross Country Meet. (HERALD PHOTO/Kati Baxter)

The Evanston High School cross country teams came together Monday night to celebrate the 2021 season, honoring their seniors and letter winners at an end-of-season banquet.

“It went really well,” said EHS head coach Nate Conrad. “We had a great turnout — a lot of family, a great meal and a great opportunity to celebrate and honor the work and efforts put in by the athletes, and to especially celebrate and honor our seniors. It was a great night.”

The program will lose 13 athletes to graduation — Mallory Sepos, Shelyse Ellingford, McKye Carver, Katy Saxton and Linzy Sharp on the girls’ side and David Aros, Noah Conrad, Tanner Newsome, Riley Ovard, Kurtis Richins, Hunter Sims, Kaden Wiley and Junior Zermeno for the boys — and each senior was given the opportunity to speak.

“It was probably one of the largest graduating groups of seniors that we’ve ever had,” Conrad said. “Of the 13 we had on the roster, 12 were at the banquet on Monday night, and each of them got an opportunity to speak, share their thoughts and feelings and offer words of encouragement to their younger teammates. It was pretty special.”

Letters and participation certificates were also handed out, with 17 athletes earning letters. Letter winners for the Lady Devils included Mallory Sepos, McKye Carver, Aubrey Horrocks, Savannah Winfield, Jocelyn Capener, Talia Conrad, Liesl Botts and Eliza Day.

For the boys, Kaden Wiley, Tanner Newsome, Kurtis Richins, Noah Conrad, Junior Zermeno, Hyrum Baxter, Derek Parks, Gideon Stahl and Paul Baxter received letters.

Little message books were also handed out to each athlete, a tradition Conrad said started last year as a way for the kids to share their appreciation with one another.

“We got done with all of the festivities, and the seniors all had their boards up, so people were checking those out,” Conrad said. “We started a tradition last year of providing all of the kids a little book they could write messages in, kind of like a yearbook. We didn’t finally get out of there until about an hour after we finished — the kids were just hanging out, writing in each other’s book, talking and laughing. They just wanted to continue being together, because the seniors knew the minute they walked out of there, it’s officially over. They just wanted to hold on to that moment as long as they could.”

The EHS cross country teams were no stranger to adversity over the course of the season, something both coach Conrad and coach Karalyn Barton addressed at the banquet.

“As we were looking over the season, both coach Barton and I came away with the same thoughts and conclusion,” Conrad explained. “We definitely went into the season with high expectations — working for and getting a state title. We felt that we had the talent for it, but the season just didn’t go our way. Injuries, illnesses, we had some things working against us. But in the end, it’s nothing to hang our heads about — we’re not moving forward sad or disappointed. Next year, we’re going to go into it with the same mentality, and the same goal — state titles for the girls and boys.”

Asked what he was most proud of, Conrad said the camaraderie of the team was unmatched — by the end of the season, they had become a family.

“The thing I was most proud about this season is the way that the team has taken a further step to becoming a family,” he said. “As coaches, one of the responsibilities that we have is, after races, finding the kids that are down on themselves, the ones that felt like they didn’t perform well, maybe felt like they disappointed their teammates. As a coach, you go to them and pick them up, tell them it may not have been their day, but it doesn’t make you less of a person — you’re still a part of this team. Your efforts are important to our program. That’s something that coach Barton and I do at these races.”

By the end of the season, however, Barton said he and Barton no longer had to take on that responsibility.

“My proudest moment was at the state meet — we didn’t have the day that we wanted, but we [Conrad and Barton] didn’t have to do that — we didn’t have to find the kids that were down on themselves,” he explained. “Their teammates were doing that, picking each other up and putting their arms around each other. Being able to stand back and watch that happen was pretty phenomenal. To see the kids take that role upon themselves, and be kind and caring to each other — that’s what Red Devil cross country is all about. We’re a family, and that was a joy to watch.”

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