HAMMOND | If Morgan Twp. runners Alec Kostelnik and Ben Savage had finished any closer at Saturday’s Gavit Invitational, it might have been mistaken for a three-legged race.
Kostelnik, a senior accustomed to hitting the chute first, was trying to push Savage, a freshman born in Ethiopia, forward as they crossed the finish line in the latter's first major prep race.
The humble Savage deferred, citing respect for his elder teammate. The final results were too close, but Kostelnik won the A Division (small schools) race Saturday at Dowling Park in 17 minutes, four seconds, with Savage listed as 0.01 second behind.
“I admire him,” Savage said. “He’s a role model.
“Running with him makes me feel better mentally.”
After winning, Kostelnik took off for a grueling post-race workout. In practice the two are elbow to elbow from start to finish.
“If we can go 1-2 (all the time), that’d be awesome,” Kostelnik said.
Kostelnik, Savage and Wheeler's Joel O’Shea were 30 seconds ahead of the rest of the field for the final half of the 5,000-meter race before the two Cherokees pulled ahead late. Kostelnik tried to eschew the glory and let Savage, an orphan who came to America four years ago via adoption, win.
“He didn’t want it; it’s how he is, really humble,” Kostelnik said.
“I’ve been in that position (winning) a lot before, but him coming in like this as a freshman gives me motivation.”
Wheeler took the A Division title as a team with 41 points, slightly ahead of the Cherokees (57). O’Shea led a group that finished 3-4-5.
Senior Nick Cinko and surprise sophomore Alex Nader followed the freshman.
“Any time you go 3-4-5 it’s a great day,” Wheeler coach Louie Guillen said. “It’s a good win, but we’re looking to October.”
Hobart had 46 points and repeated as the AA Division champ despite the absence of No. 1 runner and defending individual champ Brent Dunn, who’s out while adjusting to orthotics. Munster, which beat Hobart by one in a dual Tuesday, was second with 54.
Munster junior Tom Bolanowski won the race in 16:59.
“I went out a little fast, and my strategy didn’t go how I wanted it to go,” Bolanowski said. “But the finish was what I wanted.”
Halfway through the race Bolanowski was in eighth, but over the final 800 meters he and teammate Ryan Kritzer (third) surged and together picked off everyone but runner-up Dustin Balboa of Portage.
Alex Cordova led a pack of five Hobart runners that placed from 4-16.
“We have a nice core back from last year,” Brickies coach Ty Artherhults said. “(The pack) was pretty tight, but we could be better.”