UNION TOWNSHIP | It wasn’t the dream scenario, the one Sal Cordova envisioned when he rolled out of bed and onto the bike paths, bridges and parks of Hammond each morning this summer to train for cross country.
Indeed, the Bishop Noll senior found the extra gas over the final half mile of the boys race at Saturday’s 12th annual Andrean Invitational and passed a runner in a Wheeler uniform for the victory, his first in a big invitational.
However, the Wheeler runner he passed was junior Alex Nader and not rival Joel O’Shea, who was out with an injury.
“I do wish Joel and (Lowell’s) Brian Blaylock would’ve run today because I would’ve run a faster time with more competition,” Cordova said. “Still, it felt good. I was excited to get out here. This was really cool, and we had a lot of fun today.”
Cordova finished the flat course at Wheeler in 17:10 and bested Nader by 22 seconds. Boone Grove’s Jon Hogg, Hanover Central’s Mike York and Calumet’s Andrew Huff finished 3-4-5.
“I felt good and I felt strong, but toward the end I dropped off a little bit,” Nader said. “I felt (pressure without O’Shea) but not too much though. We’ve got a lot of support and underclassmen coming up.”
There were some qualifications to be put on Cordova’s victory, but it was a win nonetheless. That seemed to be a theme throughout the day.
In addition to the O’Shea absence -- Joel's sister Kelly didn't compete either -- Lowell’s teams both ran short-handed. Several of the top boys and at least the Red Devils' No. 1 girl were in West Lafayette for a high school showcase at Purdue.
For the first time in the event’s history, Andrean was unable to host the traditional early-season meet at its home course in Merrillville and had to move it to Wheeler. Nonetheless, the 59ers swept both race titles as a team.
The boys placed six runners in the top 12, led by Danny Kukla in sixth. Highland’s boys were second.
“The times aren’t earth-shattering, but the effort was,” Andrean coach Rick Torres said. “The goal was to have our training translate to races. This was a good win for them. They’ve needed something like this.”
The Andrean girls dominated the race, placing the first three into the chute, led by junior Kellyn Vale, who was hurt most of last year.
“I can’t say enough about her,” Torres said. “Her best running is still ahead of her.”
Vale agreed. Last year she felt a pulled muscle in a hip, which turned out to be a slip of the growth plate away from the bone. It happened on the first day of practice ruined the regular season. She came back for the sectional and hurt her hip again, which ruined her track season.
“This was the first race I could run with full health and a full slate of training, so to win was just the cherry on top,” Vale said.
Vale finished in 21 minutes, 35 seconds on a course she’d never raced. Teammates Isabella Pradhan and Alyson Janiga, a former sprinter running her first distance race, followed in second and third, respectively, in the next 20 seconds.
“I knew I had the opportunity to get first today if I worked for it,” Vale said. “It was kind of the goal, but I had to wait until I got onto the course to see. The plan was to keep the three of us together as long as we could.”
Hanover Central was the runner-up on the girls side. Lindsey Kolanowski and Olivia Umlauf were fourth and fifth, respectively.