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Slicers hat trick: La Porte goes 1-2-3 to edge Valparaiso for New Prairie Sectional title

NEW CARLISLE -- As they turned the corner and headed toward the finish, the La Porte trio of Cole Raymond, Jay Pillai and Brayden Sobecki begin their own little private celebration.

If you weren't wearing orange, you weren't invited.

"That was the most fun ever," Raymond said. "I loved it. The last 300 (meters), that's what cross country is all about. I was dreamin' of that last night, we all come in together. We showed up and it was awesome."

Raymond, Pillai and Sobecki went one-two-three to lead the Slicers to a narrow victory (42-43) over Valparaiso in Saturday's New Prairie Sectional.

"It's something they wanted to do at conference," said coach Corbin Slater, who did several recounts. "We've talked all season about going one, two, three, envisioning how cool that would be. It was just really fun to see those three doing that. It was cool seeing Cole so excited for those two, telling them to get up with him. Jay even gave him a run for his money."

Each actually led the race during stretches with Raymond ultimately overtaking Pillai with a final sprint before going into victory mode.

"The goal coming in was one, two, three," Raymond said. "I was like five seconds back with 400 to go with the Valpo guy. I just all out sprinted to catch (Pillai), then shut it off late. We wanted to push it up front. They led most of it. It was all feel. Any time I felt them falling back, I'd take over. I'd say, you're going back, you're leading this and pushing. These two are the real deal. They run everything together. A junior and a sophomore, they're going to be dangerous next year."

Raymond crossed in 16:24.7 and Pillai in 16:25.5.

"Me and Brayden just took it," Pillai said. "We saw each other and just gassed. Cole came up on us and told us to go. We didn't see any other teams except La Porte during the race. It was awesome."

Sobecki (16:32.4), who came in 10 seconds ahead of Valpo's Jimmy Dillabaugh, was hyped to just be part of the fun.

"Having that feeling, to lead that race, to see nothing in front of me but open field, having Cole screaming at me, get up there, thinking we could win this whole thing as a team and win the next three meets, that's the best feeling I've had," Sobecki said. "This is the best teamwork I've ever seen. I think, from the gun, we built a really good lead. I'm really excited to be running as good as I am with this team. I've never run this good before. We've been working together since the beginning of the year. Every race, one of us has fallen off. We finally just synched up."

Injured during his freshman year, Sobecki was middle of the pack JV runner last season, 'a dweeby freshman really just kind of working into his body,' Slater said, but found himself in track, when he ran well in the Carmel Sjowcase and timed 10 flat in the Duneland Conference meet.

"Since then, I've just been getting better and better," he said.

The hat trick may have lost some its luster if the Slicers hadn't held off the Vikings, but Stevie Klimczak (13th) and Mason Tulacz (23rd) helped make it stand up.

"Stevie ran a great race and Mason closed it out," Slater said. "They did what they had to do. It's still a full team effort. Four-five solidified it. This isn't the intensity of you have to run fast. I just keep saying, we're right where we need to be; keep enjoying moment, have some fun doing it."

Dillabaugh, Mason Nobles and Joel Bryant went 4-5-6 for Valpo, which actually put seven in front of La Porte's No. 5. Sammy Sienkowski was 11th and Nathan Nova 17th.

"We had a couple guys out, we gave Sammy an opportunity and he really stepped up," Vikings coach Aaron Crague said. "He's another freshman who's worked very hard and he ran really well. We knew it was going to be close, particularly in a smaller meet like this. I wouldn't be surprised if it flip flops. There are a lot of teams gearing up for last week or two. You've got to bring it every time. Running this course is a preview for semistate, so we went to see how to approach it in two weeks."

Portage (99), New Prairie (103) and Chesterton (104) claimed the other regional berths.


La Porte's Cole Raymond celebrates as he nears the finish line, followed by teammate Jay Pillai, in Saturday's New Prairie Sectional.


New Prairie's Ethan Walden, Chesterton's Cole Dolson and Valparaiso's Joel Bryant take a turn during Saturday's New Prairie Sectional race.

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