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Jankowski's time has come with Valparaiso boys cross country team

2013-10-18T17:30:00Z 2013-10-19T01:05:06Z Jankowski's time has come with Valparaiso boys cross country teamJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
October 18, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Your time will come.

Andrew Jankowski heard all the encouraging phrases in the book during his prolonged efforts to crack Valparaiso's top seven.

"My sophomore year, I wanted it really bad," the Vikings senior said. "I handled it better last year. I was still very impatient, but I was more mature about it. I just bided my time."

And bided and bided and bided. After making the 12-man state roster as a freshman, Jankowski was on the outside of the bubble the last two years, watching as Valpo finished seventh in 2011 and third in 2012.

"He's been waiting for a long time," coach Mike Prow said. "He was a 16:30 guy, but it was a tough crowd to break into. He didn't really get a chance. He was calm about it. He never questioned anything."

With six seniors graduating from the state lineup, Jankowski knew this was his chance. He hit the ground running, placing at or near the top of the pack from the beginning.

"I knew I had a big role I needed to step up and fill," he said. "Coach has been reminding me since last season, especially the summer, almost every day. Everyone was expecting us to not be as good, but we all knew we were capable. We all put in the hard work. These guys have a lot of heart."

Jankowski wasn't about to let the opportunity slide. He hiked his summer training to as much as 70 miles a week, adding regular Sunday runs with classmate Corey Alfredson to his log.

"'AJ''s one of the real leaders on the team," Prow said. "I had him as a Kindergartener (at Thomas Jefferson Elementary) and have known him all the way through. It's really cool to have a guy like that, to see them grow up. He's very well-respected and looked up to. He's really worked hard and it's paying off."

While playing a variety of sports at a young age, Jankowski developed an affinity for running, a sport with deep family roots. His dad Paul, grandpa Chuck and great uncle Ken are all serious distance runners.

"I was always fast," he said.

The best runner in his class at TJ Middle School, Jankowski toiled in the shadow of classmate Ari Coulopoulos, the top runner at Ben Franklin. He continued to do so until this season, when his star, finally given its chance to shine, ascended.

"I'm excited about every race," said Jankowski, an academic all-state nominee with a 4.16 grade point average. "As long as I run how I'm supposed to, just keep getting gradually better, I'm fine. The times will speak for themselves. No one has to go out and try to be a hero."

A good mental outlook steered Jankowski through some periods of doubt. It continues to benefit him now as he manages back issues that have bothered him for three years.

"My back still hurts almost every day," he said. "I used to let it get to me, but I've learned how to run with it by staying positive. It's a thing I really emphasize. Once the negative thoughts come in, you're done."

There were moments in prior seasons when Jankowski wondered what it might've been like to be the No. 1 runner at many other schools. At no point did he ever doubt he was in the right place.

"It was always in the back of my mind," he said. "But Valpo has a really good tradition in cross country and great coaches. I'm a part of something special. I'm a lot better off here than anywhere else."

That point will be reinforced in two weeks when Jankowski sheds his warmups and steps to the starting line at the state meet for the first and only time.

"We want to go all the way, win state," he said. "It'll be tough. Carmel's an amazing team. But if we're all on, we'll have a chance to do great things."

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