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Back in the saddle: Valparaiso boys capture Chesterton Regional; La Porte's Raymond defends title

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP -- The trip to Terre Haute for the state cross country finals is part of the annual routine for Valparaiso.

At least it was before last year, when an inexperienced Vikings team fell short in semistate.

"We've talked a lot about the Valpo way, the tradition, the history," Jimmy Dillabaugh said. "We'd like to keep it up."

Dillabaugh, whose uncle Joe was a member of a Vikings state championship, looks to help start a new streak, one they made a strong step toward taking by capturing Saturday's Chesterton Regional, 53-67, over La Porte.

"We tied at New Prairie, we got 'em by a little bit at conference, they got us a little bit last week, and we got them a little bit (this time)," Valpo coach Aaron Crague said. "We knew it would be close and it wouldn't surprise me if we keep going back and forth, trading punches. I think what was lost (at sectionals) was our guys ran pretty well. La Porte just outraced us. La Porte's doing fantastic things with their top three. We knew we'd have to bring it one through seven to give ourselves our best chance. Everybody would have to be on. We had a really good, full team effort."

Dillabaugh (third, 16:27.1) headed the Valpo charge with Joel Bryant (sixth) and freshman Mason Nobles (seventh) joining him in single digits.

"The team ran really great," Dillabaugh said. "Our goal was to break up La Porte's top three. Throughout the season, we've really made it a priority that every single guy on the team matters, all the way down to the seventh guy. Everybody in there needs to be in a good pack. We have some really good freshmen who have really helped us out, especially after the season had last year. Throughout the winter, summer, we all really worked hard. It's been our goal to stick together as a team. Now winning the regional, hopefully we can all bring it again for semistate and state."

Another freshman, Sam Sienkowski (17th), and Nathaniel Malchow (20th) rounded out Valpo's scoring.

"We needed (Dillabaugh) and he really stepped up," Crague said. "After being down a little bit, he competed with a little more intensity. Joel's been really solid, which is what we need from seniors. Don't make any mistakes, be smart. The freshmen ran great again. They all brought it. Having a pretty deep team, we want to get other guys a look, to give them some experience, to try to get rested up and healthy for the last couple weeks of the season."

Jimmy Dillabaugh, right, led Valparaiso to the team title in Saturday's Chesterton Regional with a third-place finish.

La Porte put three in the top five, headed by race winner Cole Raymond, but Valpo put six runners in front of the Slicers' fourth to cancel out the advantage at the top.

"We'll give it to 'em. I tip my hat," Raymond said. "We didn't run very good. We didn't taper. They got us pretty good. We're better when we're aiming for Valpo. We don't like them, they don't like us either. We're going all in for two races. This is where I want this team to be. We'll get there. I think it helps us. It's almost like a blessing in disguise. We're going to come back firing. We'll be ready to go and I'm excited for it. "

Given a hard week of training and the prior week's sectional victory, La Porte coach Corbin Slater wasn't too surprised by the outcome.

"You kind of expect that," he said. "I think we felt we got over that hump last week. We were kind of riding that high and it can't last too long. We beat them up a little bit (in practice). We were running on some trash legs. Give it to Valpo. They ran a great race. They really brought it to us. We've got bigger and better things for this season. We're so forward focused. We've talked about semistate, state all year, running our best races then. We're not getting caught in the mindset like, we have to run well here. I think some of the guys are kind of bummed, but long term, it's fuel for the fire. They'll be ready to roll next week."

Raymond didn't have his 'A' stuff, yet managed to still comfortably defend his title, hitting the line in 16:08.4.

"The plan was to go all out from the gun," he said. "I wasn't feeling the best all week. I was just tired from training. (Coach Corbin) Slater lets me go by feel, whatever you feel. That's kind of what we did. I was chillin' through the 4K. I got to the 4K, it was an automatic gear change. I just took off. We were even, then I looked back and I had a six-second lead. A 2:56 the last K is cooking. It was hard last year. I was dead. I ate it at the line. To do that, it shows my fitness is in the right place."

Justin Hoffman of Kankakee Valley was 17 seconds back in 16:25.7.

"Cole's a great runner," said Hoffman, who was a full shoe deep in mud at one point. "I was in contact until about 800, but he closed the last K hard. Normally, I don't run the best here. This is the only time we run here, so I don't know the course that well. A 16:25, super muddy, chilly with some wind, I'm happy with it. I was in a full shoe if mud at one point. I kind of trained through it. We cut a little bit of miles, nothing crazy, just enough so I can run decent. I'll probably cut a little more next week, so we're definitely peaking at state. Whatever sets me up for that, that's all I care about."

Cole Raymond of La Porte won the Chesterton Regional on Saturday, defending his title. Teammate Jay Pillai finished fourth.

Chesterton, Morgan Township and Portage also advanced to the New Prairie Semistate.

Cole Dolson and Jackson Tuck placed 10th and 11th in Saturday's Chesterton Regional, helping the Trojans finish third and qualify for the semistate.

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