La PORTE — Thanks to Mitchell Gits, the template was already in place for Connor Havens to use.
"We're basically almost the same person," Havens said after Saturday's Bransford Invitational at Kesling Park. "We were both slow our freshman year -- I was slower -- we both moved up our sophomore year. I just followed the same pattern he did."
For the sake of review, Gits, now a freshman running at IUPUI, was La Porte's seventh runner in the 2016 New Prairie Semistate. He qualified for semistate as a junior, finishing 102nd before emerging as a star last season, winning the NP Regional, advancing to state and earning all-state honors with a 17th-place finish in Terre Haute.
"I didn't have a great track season," Havens said. "For the summer, I was like, OK, I've got to do something here. I've got to do something smart. I looked up (La Porte) runners Mike Fout, Matt Miller, Kyle Lovekin, Adam Gasaway, Mitchell Gits. Especially Mitchell and Adam, I got to witness it. I looked at it like, cool, I could probably do that."
The heir apparent to the graduated Gits, Havens led the way for the Slicers with a second-place finish in the Bransford behind Crown Point's Geno Christofanelli, who by coincidence cross the line at state directly behind Gits.
"When I saw (Geno) last year, I was like, man, this kid is good," Havens said. "When you're up in the front and see all the people you never ran with before, it's a nice feeling."
Slicers coach Corbin Slater has seen Havens track upward like Gits.
"It's cool to see Connor progress," Slater said. "He was a 19:40 freshman. We took both (Havens and Cole Raymond) down to state and they just loved it. I think that's where it all started for both of them. They came back and said, 'We're going to be here next year, me and you.' They've had that mindset ever since. That's what's really cool about that group."
The senior, Havens, and the sophomore, Raymond, now comprise LP's one-two, a dynamic of complementary running ability and personalities.
"Some people hit growth stages at different times," Havens said. "Sam (Bell) and Cole, they're very young runners, they just turned 15 and 16, they're really talented. They're going to be up there next year. I see me and Cole, it's the sophomore talent versus senior strength. We've both worked hard."
Havens is now part of a modest senior class on a team comprised in large part of underclassmen.
"My freshman year, there were a lot more (seniors)," he said. "They just faded off and went to do their own thing. Winston (Griffin) and I are the only ones left. One of our group is on another team now. There were a lot of seniors last year, so it's a little different. I had to step it up. I help the team, activities, team bonding. It's working out. I'm glad for them, too. We want the whole team to go to state, not just individuals. We think it would be nice to have them all around."
That's the end goal for Havens, who hopes a strong senior year can lead him to college running, as it did for Gits.
"I want to progress more. I have to progress more," Havens said. "Not every meet is going to be a great day. There are going to be ups and downs. Hopefully most of the ups will be toward the end of the season, closer to state."