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Plenty of orange: DAC champ Raymond leads three La Porte runners in top five

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP -- A ripple of orange stretched through the lead pack of runners in Saturday's Duneland Athletic Conference championship at Sunset Hill County Park.

"Three in the top five, that's a hell of a day," La Porte's Cole Raymond said.

The Slicers senior claimed his sixth DAC title between cross country and track with runner-up Jay Pillai and Brayden Sobecki (fifth) rounding out the trio that nearly carried La Porte to the team championship, which Valparaiso captured, 50-55.

"We had a lot of people who thought I'd just go try to rip, run 15:30," Raymond said. "The plan was to go with our team. We wanted to go one, two, three, bulk up, and after the mile, rip, just hard surge. I'm all team-oriented right now. I'm doing this all for the team. That's the goal right now. The plan Wednesday was to go 15:20. Thursday, we came in, regrouped, and we were like, let's go try to win a team title; that would be pretty cool. I was going to win individual pretty much however I raced."

Raymond brought it in at 15:52.8, followed by Pillai (16:15.1) with Sobecki at 16:34.7.

"Jay's been kind of in and out of the lineup," Raymond said. "Last week, he was looking like a beast. I told me before, he felt great, and he showed it. After the mile, I put in a hard surge. I stomped it and he went right with me. He's not afraid of anything. That was very impressive from him. (Brayden) missed some time last week. I'm not too worried about him. Three weeks, it's going to be a whole different story."

Injury and illness hampered Pillai at Lowell and New Prairie, but the DAC version was better than anybody not named Raymond.

"I just stick on Cole as long as possible," Pillai said. "I feel good now. I know I can draft off of him and just go to work; just hammer, try and break the field a little bit. We just put in the work over the summer and it's paying off now."

La Porte's Cole Raymond won Saturday's

Duneland Conference championship meet.

Valpo surrounded Sobecki with three runners and its four-five came in before La Porte's four to negate the front-end deficit.

"We wanted to try to get Jay and Brayden up with (Cole) as much as we could," LP coach Corbin Slater said. "Brayden fell back a little. I know he'll be upset with it. Valpo tends to run really well at conference. I was secretly predicting they had an 80 percent chance of winning. I think the guys are right where we need to be. They've kept a calm, cool, collected attitude all season. They don't get too high or too low over anything, and they expect success. They've just been so committed and all in this year. Those guys want it so much. They want to be great. They'll do anything I tell them. It's really cool."

The post-season wild card for La Porte might be four/five Preston Peterson, who is working through a knee issue. He ran about 1K before pulling out.

Jay "Just to be safe, be smart," Slater said. "We told him anything's a victory; whatever we can get from him. He's still positive. He's putting hours on the bike. He's all in regardless. He would do anything I told him. It's going to be day to day. We're going to give him an opportunity as much as we can. It's a hard pill to swallow, but we realize we've got a few weeks to get him ready."

Freshman Mason Nobles (fourth) was the difference maker for the Vikings.

"La Porte's a great team. They're well-coached. Slater's one of the best for sure," Valpo coach Aaron Crague said. "Their top three is fantastic. We knew we had to run really well to beat them. We ran pretty well. We had guys pick up for guys who were a little off. That's what you want with a team. There's a lot of good teams. It's going to make for a fun, exciting semistate."

La Porte's Jay Pillai was the runner-up in Saturday's DAC meet at Sunset Hill.

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