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Life after Cole: La Porte moves on from Raymond; Sobecki, Lake Central wins Bransford Invite

Updated: May 19, 2023

La PORTE -- Most of its starting lineup remains intact, but Cole Raymond, as any of his La Porte teammates and coaches would affirm, wasn't just one guy to replace on a roster.

He was more than the Slicers' top runner and an all-stater, he was a forceful personality whose confident energy was a driving force in the team's state berth last season.

"I remember one day he said I'm great if you have me on your team, but you don't want to be my opponent," LP junior Brayden Sobecki said.

The trademark sunglasses will remain, at least when the sun's out, though the rest will be new as Jay Pillai and Sobecki, the Slicers' two and three runners, step into the lead role.

"I'm very different. I'm not all too myself, but I'm not as outgoing," Sobecki said. "I've stepped up a lot to try to lead the team more, get the new guys coming in accustomed to the procedures."

With Pillai sidelined by a stomach ache, Sobecki did what Raymond typically did last season -- win -- taking first in Saturday's Bransford Invite at Kesling Park in 16:28.67.

"I was excited with the fact that I went out in 5:30 and could still come in in 16:30," Sobecki said. "That makes me think I can go under 16 (minutes). We could still have a pack of two or three right in front."

Lake Central ran away with team honors, 28-57, over the Slicers.

"It hasn't been that much of a difference, but you can tell the spark isn't the same without Cole," coach Corbin Slater said. "Because he was such a mainstay, what is our identity without him? Mason Tulacz was our No. 7 guy, but he was always a huge leader. Not having Jay throws us off a little bit. We looked a little lackadaisical all week. It's a good reality check. Lake Central looked great last week and they looked great this week. They brought it. It teaches us if we want to be that team like were last year, it's got to be an every week commitment. No one's going to be handing over any trophies."

Brayden Sobecki of La Porte won Saturday's Bransford Invitational at Kesling Park.

Lake Central took second (Austin Wojcik, 16:31), third (freshman Ben Perschon, 16:38), fourth Riley Petrovich (16:38.5), ninth (Drew McGrath, 17:03.5), and tenth Evan Smith, 17:04).

"I'm not sure what our M.O. is just yet," Indians coach Jeff Rhody said. "These guys train every day together. They're pretty competitive with each other. They like each other, but they still want to beat each other in a race. Two, three, four isn't bad, but when we get to the big meets, we don't have that 15:30 guy that's going to get us that really low stick. I think we've got five under 17. We're happy with that. Last week, we were nine seconds between our first and fifth. We're happy with the guys. We're pretty fit right now. They're feeling pretty confident."

The Indians graduated their No. 1, Vince Vanderveen, among four seniors from their semistate roster, with Wojcik, McGrath and Petrovich back from that group.

"We had some guys make some really nice jumps over the track season and summer," Rhody said. "It's a nice mix. Right now, they're really learning how to train seriously. A couple of years ago, when we made it to state, a lot of these guys were sophomores and freshmen, and they're just learning how to step out from that shadow. We've got to like what the future holds, but we're not going to rest on that. We want to see them do some stuff this year. We ran faster at Crown Point than we've ever run and we're thinking this will be a pretty good one, too. They seem to be pretty ready to race."

How they stack up locally will come into focus in the coming meets.

"After the (Rudy) Skorupa (Invitational) next (Saturday), we get into the big-time racing season," Rhody said. "I think Lowell will be a really telling meet because everybody's going to be there except Valpo. Valpo's really good. I'm happy with the way we've been training. We see improvement every time we step on the course."

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