HAMMOND | Hebron senior Ryan Witt took a marker and drew a 10 on the hand or arm of all of his cross country teammates before Saturday’s Gavit Invitational at Riverside Park.
The number had little to do with time and a lot to do with The Times.
Witt was elated to see the Hawks in the top 10 of the newspaper’s weekly poll online Friday night, but he wanted to make sure they become a permanent fixture.
“I told everyone to run like a top-10 team,” Witt said. “It lit our guys up.”
Witt finished fifth overall and freshman teammate Scott Crawley was seventh. The Hawks took the team title ahead of Andrean and Highland to win the invitational at the meet’s new/old location at Riverside Park. Dowling Park had been the host site in recent years.
The Hebron girls team, led by a 1-2 finish from colorfully brilliant sophomores Payton Schatz and Sarah Benjamin, also won the meet, edging Andrean and Rensselaer.
“I’m proud of them,” Hebron boys and girls coach Mike DeFries said. “They’ve worked extremely hard, and they’re trying to work together to push themselves.”
The intermittent morning rain wasn’t the only thing that softened the field at Gavit this year. Many of the perennial champions moved to meets such as Lake Central’s Rudy Skorupa Invitational, and Gavit had just 20 boys teams and 21 girls squads compete Saturday.
As a result, the annual tradition of holding separate races for small and large schools was abrogated.
“We would have liked to move into the big-school race and would’ve made a good showing,” DeFries said. “It was nice having Andrean, Highland and Rensselaer, schools bigger than us, here and still win.”
The individual boys champ was a small-school story, as well. Morgan Twp.’s Ben Savage was steps behind then-senior teammate Alec Kostelnik for the title last season. A year later, the sophomore cruised to the title alone on in 16:36, 28 seconds ahead of runner-up Sal Cordova of Bishop Noll.
“It was a fast course,” Savage said. “I figured most of the teams from last year are gone to Lake Central, so I ran with the front group for the first mile and then did a 30-second surge to move ahead.”
Gavit’s Zach Schreiber took third, and Wheeler’s Alex Nader was fourth in the boys race.
Wheeler’s Joel O’Shea and sister Kelly O’Shea sat out for the second consecutive Saturday invite.
Schatz won the girls race by more than 30 seconds over teammate Benjamin. Both wore bright pink, yellow and black socks and multi-hued spikes, which made avoiding mud on turns even more imperative.
Andrean’s Kellyn Vale was third, followed by Hebron’s Abby Getautas and Hanover Central’s Lindsey Kolanowski.
“Last year at this time I would never expect to win this, because I didn’t take running seriously as a freshman,” Schatz said. “This year I felt strong, and I did have winning in my mind. I still had to give it a lot of effort.”
After placing third at North White last week, Schatz earned her first major invite title with a 20:29 finish.
“She had a really good end to last season,” DeFries said of Schatz. “She saw that she’s capable of doing awesome things.”