Looking for No. 1: Valparaiso may not have a proven front-runner, but that may not matter
ST. JOHN -- Alpha No. 1 runners have been a tradition for Valparaiso, long before John Arredondo became head coach.
"I've been so lucky," Arredondo said. "Allison Mundell, Logan Ferngren, then Ava (Gilliana), then Kaylie (Politza)."
As the 2022 season begins to take shape, Valpo doesn't appear to be blessed with a dominant lead girl, but Arredondo isn't lacking for talent, as Saturday's win at Lake Central's Rudy Skorupa Invitational would affirm.
"Kaylie was a phenomenal teammate," Arredondo said. "I told the girls this is my first year we don't have a legitimate all-state kid right off the bat. Cheyanne (Stock) has the potential. Actually, the really good teams, no one has that kid. We've got some girls that have that bulldog mentality. They raced, they competed. On any given day, any of those three or four could be our No. 1. It's going to be interesting."
With Stock out injured for a week or two, that person Saturday was Grace Thomas, the sole senior in the Valpo lineup, who took second behind La Porte's Brenna Sobecki, to lead the Vikings to the team title, 44-58, over the host Indians.
"I'm very proud of how we ran," Arredondo said. "We haven't run this well here in a very long time. We usually get beat up pretty good. They came here ready to compete. Grace, Libbie (Ehrhardt) were right where they need to be. Annika (Anderson) didn't get out like she wanted to, but she really battled back the second half of the race. Grace has put that work in the last two years. It was awesome she got second. To see her smiling, to see what she did, was super cool. She even surprised herself. Sobecki had a great race and Grace was only that far behind one of the best runners in the state."
Ehrhardt (fourth, 19:55), Anderson (10th, 20:39), Meredith Isley (13th, 20:49) and Brooke Byvoets (15th, 20:58) also scored for the Vikings.
It wasn't exactly an uneventful race for Sobecki, who took a spill in the opening half of the race, but save for a dirty uniform, was none the worse for wear, crossing in 19:22, seven ticks ahead of Thomas, to defend her meet title.
"The second hairpin turn, coach (Corbin Slater) said, 10 hard steps, make a gap," Sobecki said. "I went hard, it was a little wet, I fell, I was completely on the ground. I went to get back up, this hand slid and I fell back down. I got up and started sprinting. I think my second mile was my fastest. I was like, I have to make a gap. I had so much adrenaline. I thought they were right there, but I had space. I never actually saw anyone."
In past seasons, Sobecki thought the mishap might have messed with her head, but she's past that as a senior.
"I think the writer in me said, oh, this would make a good story," she said. "I was like, I can't let them beat me now. I can't let that define me. I've got to use that as an advantage. No excuses. Things like that happen. I've never fallen during a race. I wasn't upset about it. Last year, I probably would've freaked out and slowed down. I feel like I'm a more chill, level-headed runner. I know what I need to do. I'm excited to see what I have for the rest of the season."
La Porte's Brenna Sobecki won Saturday's Rudy Skorupa Invitational at Lake Central.
Sobecki expected Stock to give her a run, but in her absence, was glad to see Thomas give her a go.
"I know Grace has been doing well, so congrats to her," Sobecki said. "There's a picture of us next to each other at the New Prairie JV Invite (as freshmen), I thought it was awesome we were one and two. I wasn't even nervous. I'm just excited, ready to go out hard and have fun. If people go out hard, I let them lead for a little bit. I used to try to overthink every little part of the run, like, the night before, I've got to go to bed at this time, I can't go to the football game. I'd try to manipulate every little piece. Now I realize what's going to happen is going to happen."
LC actually had three in front of Valpo's two, but the Vikings were ahead of the Indians at every other spot in the top seven.
"I feel like this was a better showing than last week for (Valpo)," LC coach Morgan Kleinaman said. "They weren't where I thought they would be last week. Their front pack looked strong. It was way more of a pack. Brenna looked awesome. Last year, people had those stud runners. This year, everybody just has packs. It's more on the same plane. We're no longer a pack team. That's our biggest adjustment. We're trying to have those leaders and see who can step up and fill in."
Nikki Vollrath took third for LC (19:50) with Addie Roth sixth (20:21) and Sydney Churilla ninth (20:31). Mackenzie Smith (17th, 21:04) and Marie Weber (23rd, 21:20) rounded out the Indians' top five.
"We know who our solid top four is, five through 11 is up in the air," Kleinaman said. "We'll see who's going to step up and take those spots. There's a lot of JV girls from last year."
Valpo's Grace Thomas was runner-up in Saturday's Rudy Skorupa Invitational at Lake Central.
Crown Point (92) was third, followed by Illiana Christian (107), which had Ella and Avery Olthof take fifth and eighth, respectively. Faith Spain crossed seventh for La Porte (128).