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Keeping the line moving: Graduation losses haven't detoured Valparaiso boys cross country

PORTAGE -- 'Tradition never graduates' is a popular slogan for team t-shirts.

While words are nice, they don't mean much if they're not backed by actions.

"It speaks more to the guys and their desire to keep that going," Valpo boys cross country coach Aaron Crague said. "They've got to be the ones who buy into what you're doing and believe it."

So while the Vikings graduated four runners from its top seven, including the area's best in Jimmy Dillabaugh, they have been able to sustain their success this season, adding the Duneland Conference title to their resume' Saturday at Woodland Park.

"We did lose a pretty good amount of guys," Crague said. "Otto Leake's stepped up a lot to fill in to where we potentially could have been thin. He's really improved a lot. He's been a real game changer for us. It was a really good team effort. Everybody kind of did their job. A lot of No. 1s came in, a lot of No. 2s come in. Some of the guys were hoping to finish a little better on the individual level, but we talk a lot about trying to win the position battles. Whatever the times are, that will take care of itself. Overall, I'm excited to be able to win."

Valpo (56) topped Lake Central (67) for the team title, with La Porte (80) third. The Indians ran without mainstay Austin Wojcik, who competed in -- and won -- the JV title.

"I thought we'd have a chance," Crague said. "Looking at how track went, Lake Central looked really good. They've been good all year, they started out strong with some nice wins. La Porte looked like they'd be pretty tough. This meet is so competitive. The quality of depth is really good, too."

Mason Nobles (third, 15:47.8), Sammy Sienkowski (eighth) and Leake gave Valpo three in the top nine.

"Sammy was a little off the second half." Crague said. "It was a pretty quick pace early and that got to a lot of guys. Mason, Sammy and Thomas helped us as freshmen to win the semistate. That group's stayed together to be a big part of what we're doing. Otto's running with a lot of confidence. He's one of those kids who likes to race. If he could race every day, he probably would. In practices, he tries to close that gap between Mason and Sammy."

Brady Cavanaugh (17th) and Thomas Krueger (19th) closed out the Valpo top five.

"Brady was the regional (track) champ in the 800," Crague said. "He really came on well at the end of last season. He had a good winter and carried through track. It continued through the summer, and now as a senior, he's taken on a leadership role. Thomas ran really well last week at Highland and ran a really good one today also.

Has Valpo met Crague's expectations.

"Ask me in a couple weeks," he said.


Valparaiso's Sammy Sienkowski, right, finished eighth in the Duneland

Conference meet, helping the Vikings win the team title.

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