La PORTE — Running on your home cross country course is supposed to be an advantage.
It almost didn’t work that way for La Porte’s Connor Havens in Saturday’s Jack Bransford Classic as the Slicers' senior momentarily forgot there was a modest change in the location of the finish line.
Locked in a battle for second place with Quinton Bock of Crown Point, Havens briefly drifted wide of the chute area before angling back just in time to hold off Bock.
“In previous years, it was out in the middle a little more,” Havens said. “After four years of running this, you kind of get used to it. They moved it a little closer, so it surprised some runners. I got lost, but I still got a good kick, I still felt good.”
Havens checked in at 16 minutes, 23.08 seconds, a personal best for the Kesling Park. Bock timed 16:23.3. His teammate, Geno Christofanelli, won going away in 15:50.45, tying the course record of Mike Fout, though the 3.1-mile layout is different than when the Slicers great ran in high school.
“I was impressed,” Havens said. “I felt good throughout the whole race. I got out a little slow. I was going to go with Cole (Raymond), but I didn’t want to kill it the first mile. I stayed behind, then started coming around that second lap. Me and Quentin, we just chilled together and moved up together. I had a good feeling inside of me and I didn’t want to lose that feeling. I wanted to make sure I had it all the way. Coming along the fence on the last lap, I was like, OK, this is where we can move.”
After Havens held down the top spot throughout the summer, Raymond posted a better overall time in the team hokum karem intrasquad race recently, heightening the competition between the senior and sophomore.
“He and Cole are perfect teammates for each other,” coach Corbin Slater said. “They have friendly banter back and forth. This is going to kill Cole for next week. He’ll probably show up and run 20 seconds faster because he wants to prove a point that he’s better than Connor. it’s a real cool dynamic. They love seeing each other be successful. They relish in each other’s improvements.”
Raymond, who paced with Christofanelli early on, finished fourth in 16:26.02.
“Coming up on the end, I was glad Cole was there,” Havens said. “It’s always nice to have a teammate there. Last week, he surprised me. He actually really wanted the record. I didn’t know about it. I was prepared (for this race). I went to bed on time. It’s my senior year. I’ve got to change things. I’ve got to go out positive, not nervous or afraid.”
Sam Bell followed Raymond in fifth at 16:45.5 with Winston Griffin 13th (17:17.61) and John Groth 17th (17:39.45).
“The team ran well overall,” Havens said. “This was a meet just to see where we’re at and we’re looking good, so I’m glad. San ran an awesome race. He PR’d majorly. He’s going to be our No. 3, which is going to be good for us later in the season. Our No. 4 (Groth) did good, too. We all did what we needed to do. We listened to our coach and we followed through I think what got everybody motivated was the course was going to be the best it’s been in years. The grass was finally cut. It wasn’t overgrown. It was dry, not humid at all. From what I’ve heard, it’s one of the slowest courses in the state.”
CP topped the Slicers 35-41 for first place among the five teams. Lake Central (61) was third, with Munster (94) fourth and Portage (120) fifth.
“I was really happy with the top group,” Slater said. “We had a few big time PRs for the top three. Really the top four looked really good all the way through. Five, six, they’re moving up, We had a big PR from one of the Groth twins. I’m happy with where we’re at. We’re just looking for progress throughout the year. It’s nice to see we’re as up as we are. Crown Point’s ranked one-two in conference and semistate, so if we’re anywhere close to them, that’s really exciting. We just don’t have much depth, so we have to really hope we continue to stay injury-free and can keep the ball rolling.”
La Porte’s girls were fourth with 91 points, trailing LC (48), CP (49) and Portage (58).
“There’s only a few with varsity experience,” Slater said. “We’re young. We’re just looking to make minor improvements each week. It’s a group of girls that want to get better. They soak everything up, listen to anything we say.”
Ella Bensz, a first-year runner who used to play volleyball, led the Slicers in 10th (21:04.52). Crown Point’s Jaelyn Burgos won in 19:47.58.
“She ran track for us,” Slater said. “She basically said she wasn’t going out for volleyball, so we were like, 'You need to come out, you never know how good you can be.' I didn’t think she’d be that good, to be honest, but it’s great to see her jump in there. She’s a natural talent and she’s tough, too. She doesn’t back down.”
Ariana Steele was 12th for La Porte in 21:17.92 with Ella Dubbs 18th (21:41.95).