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A cut above: Raymond, La Porte take top spots at Bob Thomas Invitational

LOWELL -- Look good, feel good.

The mantra has caught on with La Porte, where the rest of the Slicers are following Cole Raymond's fashion trend by wearing sunglasses when they race.

"We try to create some swag," Raymond said. "I feel like if we have swag, we run better. We're just trying to put some fun in the sport. I told our guys, everyone's looking at us, we're ranked No. 1 for the semistate. We want this pressure. We embrace it. We've been on the outside looking in all my three years. We're right there now. All eyes are on the post-season. We're going to be ready to go when it matters."

Raymond won the race in 16:23.18 to help La Porte edge Chesterton 69-71 for the team title in Saturday's Bob Thomas Invitational.

"We're training through this, so we're on some tired legs," coach Corbin Slater said. "The biggest thing is just running with confidence, knowing Chesterton, Crown Point and Valpo are always going to be competitive. You have to have an 'A' day. A few guys had an A, A-minus day, a couple guys, C-minus. We make joke that Cole gets 'P' for passing. That was kind of what we wanted him to do. We're not trying to go out and hammer early yet. We were hit pretty hard with sickness last week. That's why we only had three run (at Harrison). They were feeling OK, but you can tell they weren't 100 percent."

Slater credited Preston Peterson (22nd) for making a big push despite some early traffic problems.

"He's usually our No. 6 and was our four," Slater said. "He ran out of his mind. He tripped the first 100 meters into the race. He was way back. I think it kind of helped him get out of his own mind. It shocked him into running fast. He kept closing and catching. He had a phenomenal race."

Raymond had a push from several runners, including Kankakee Valley's Justin Hoffman (16:26.83), before easing clear in the final straightaway.

"I think I ran pretty good," Raymond said. "I was on pretty tired legs. One of our biggest workouts done was Wednesday, so I wasn't feeling the best. I'm definitely in shape. ready to go. I had a big PR last week. I was still pretty sore. I was trying to work on my kick. I let them catch me in the forest. When I got out of the woods, I slowly cranked down. I was leading the pack, but I didn't break until about 300 to go. I wanted to save a little. I felt like if had a kick last weekend, I could've won."

Cole Dolson (fourth) led Chesterton, which had four in the top 15.

"We may have run it differently with our whole team here," Trojans coach Tim Ray said. "We hadn't run any of these guys yet. We know La Porte's good, Crown Point's good, Valpo's going tbe right there. Just changing things up. Whatever you do, get out as hard as you can. If you hang on, great; if you don't, that's all right, too. Find that fine line, a little too much or I'm OK, I can do this. We'll make those adjustments in the upcoming weeks. We're just trying to move our three-four up closer to our one-two. Cole's had a pretty good season so far. He mixed it up with the top guys. It's a matter of him building some confidence going forward."

Hoffman relished the chance to rub elbows with Raymond and company.

"You race faster people, you're going to run faster. That's the name of the game," Hoffman said. "He's good. Cole's a nice kid, a good runner. It was nice to run with a pack. It's nice to race some Region kids. It's going to see the same schools at semistate. Cole and I are going to be up there. After that, it's going to be open."

With Owen Thomas of Morgan Township third and Ryan York of Hanover Central fifth, the smaller schools represented well in a field full of Duneland Conference schools.

"The game plan was conservative first two miles, then hammer out the last three-fourths, but no one really went so I wasn't going to force anything, just let it come naturally," Hoffman said. "I knew I had to make a move. I was third out of the woods, I just started cooking. I know have a good kick, I'm just gonna go. I pulled up kind of early, too. My stomach wasn't feeling the best. My legs were perfectly fine. I'm happy with it."

A stress fracture slowed Hoffman last season, when he was only able to get in a few races before semistate on only about a month of training.

"I was on the bike, doing aqua jog," he said. "I was in the best shape I could have been in. I did as much as I could with what I had. I was pretty happy. At least I got to run. But it sucked because I think I was in the running to make (state). I'm happy to be racing now. I'm doing great. I'm glad to be back where I knew I could be. My goal is top 15 at state. I think that's reasonable."

Griffith's Joey Lapatra capped the morning of races, prevailing in a sprint to the finish with Northwest Crossroads rival Joey Meagher of Hobart, 17:46.03 to 17:46.3.

"I was sitting behind him most of the race," Lapatra said. "In the forest, I saw him behind me. I couldn't let him get too close to me. I let him get me like over 200 away, but I just came back up. I had enough left in me to surge again. It was a great race. I think he's been ahead more than me (in past races). My goal was to come out here and try to win."

Lapatra hopes to follow the lead of former teammate Jon Jon Baxter, who made it to state last year.

"His training regimen was a lot more serious," Lapatra said. "I knew I had to step it up in practice."

Morgan Township's Owen Thomas and Chesterton's Cole Dolson and Jackson Tuck set the early pace at the Bob Thomas Invitational on Saturday with Cole Raymond of La Porte and Justin Hoffman of Kankakee Valley close behind. Raymond and Hoffman finished one-two, followed by Thomas and Dolson.

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