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Making a new memory: After collapsing in last year's state meet, Portage's Conroy has eyes on medal

La PORTE -- For each of the 250 runners stepping to the starting line in Saturday's state cross country championship, there are 250 stories, accounts of joy and sadness, satisfaction and disappointment, fulfillment and emptiness.

For Portage's Shane Conroy, it was really none of the above last year, at least not right away.

"I collapsed in the middle of the race and didn't finish," the Indians junior said. "Halfway through, I fell over. I blacked out. I don't know how long it was. The next thing I remembered, the paramedics were helping me get onto the Gator."

For as long as Conroy can remember, he has dealt with what he described as 'heart problems that pop up here and there.'

"They don't know," he said. "I have had an EKG on me for a few months. It messes me with sometimes. I like freeze up. I can't move. There's no set cause. I could be sitting down, I could be running. I could be doing anything and it happens. It's just random."

That Conroy has continued to run, let alone be one of the top runners in the state speaks volumes to his commitment to the sport.

"I just go out and do what I need to do," he said. "It's an honor to be leading these guys. It's a great group of guys. They put in the work."

Saturday's New Prairie Regional brought a range of emotions for Conroy, the individual runner-up, but his return trip to state was tempered by the team disappointment of placing sixth, 23 points back of La Porte for the fifth and final qualifying spot at 208. A scoring issue prompted a delay of over an hour before the announcement of results, an ironic twist for Slicers coach Corbin Slater, whose wife Natalie is nine months pregnant and due Saturday.

"That'll be a story in itself," Slater said. "She's a trooper. We thought she was going to go early. That's been on my mind. I've driven separately from the team the last two weeks. A trophy isn't as good as a newborn. I feel like the last three years, it's never been easy like, oh yeah, we're there. I'm happy for our guys. They've worked so hard this year. Someone like Charles (Tonagel), he went down last week, he was running with 10 stitches. Those guys are so dedicated to each other. I told them we didn't go out and do what we wanted to, but we're going to hold our heads high no matter what. We ran for something greater. That's something we've been preaching all year."

Conroy (15:45.8) crossed five seconds back of Mishawaka's Liam Bauschke on a heavy, rain-soaked course.

"Kind of crappy," Conroy said. "I could have done better. I haven't been taking care of myself. I'm a little sick. I could have been hydrating more. I'm building my bedroom right now. I just got done putting up insulation in the attic. It's nice knowing I can compete with the top 10 (at state) and get a medal."

Valparaiso edged Northridge and Penn, 115-119-123, for the team title. It was technically a repeat for the Vikings, who won last year's regional, when the tournament series was four races instead of three and not as difficult at the regional level.

"I thought we ran very well," Vikings coach Aaron Crague said. "We were hoping to have five in the top 40 and we actually had four in the top 30. There are a lot of good teams here, with the addition of Northridge and Penn. It really elevated this area, with the quality and depth of the field. It made it a lot more challenging. We knew a lot of teams had a chance to win and we had to have a good team effort. The window of opportunity is so small, when you have a chance to do that, you really want to try do that. It says a lot about the guys, the time and effort they put in, the amount of work, all those miles. There's nothing better than that. It's such a huge honor."

Valpo had Mason Nobles (16:06) and Sammy Sienkowski (16:06.7) come in side by side, eighth and ninth, with Otto Leake 23rd and Thomas Krueger 28th. Brady Cavanaugh

"On the way out to camp in the summer, we go to Pokagon and we stop here," Crague said. "We tell them, you're going to blink and we'll be back here. The season's going to go by. As a bigger school, we had the luxury of using the first round or two to work on some things to get ourselves ready. Here, you've got to be out the door, ready from day one. We were second last year, we were returning a lot of the group, and had guys stepping up along the way. That's what you always look for as a coach. The kids will try to continue the legacy of the guys who came before them."

Lake Central joined Valpo and La Porte among 219 schools, scoring 181 to take fourth. Indians coach Jeff Rhody had been told as much, though you're never sure until your hear it announced.

"Based on the source, quite a bit of stock," he said. "You never feel good. I was playing a game on my phone. It is what it is. Your fate's sealed anyway. There's no sense worrying about it. You worry for the kids. They're nervous. I've seen it before. I felt like we ran OK, about what I thought we would, and it was probably good enough. We had a parent taking places at the finish line. He said 200 raw, which usually gets you through in the semistate. We knew who was in front of us, who took what places."

Ben Perschon placed 17th for LC, followed by Riley Petrovich (33rd), Roger Ochoa (41st), Evan Smith (48th) and Kris Garner (61st).

"We had some decent races," Rhody said. "It's really hard to know, this course, the condition it's in. We're still a little dinged up. We've got some nicks and dings here and there, but that's normal this time of year. Everybody's going through the same thing. We will be better (at state)."

La Porte, Valparaiso and Trinity runners navigate their way along the trail during Saturday's New Prairie Regional. (Photo by Russ Draper)

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