LOWELL | As the target, the mark, the rabbit, the frontrunner, LaPorte’s Elena Lancioni doesn’t have runners in front of her driving her to hasten the pace.
She has to seek other motivation, and on Saturday morning at Lowell’s Bob Thomas Invitational, the 32nd annual on the boys side and 27th for the girls, all it took was seeing another LaPorte runner winning.
That runner didn’t beat Lancioni. It was male teammate Anthony Didion, who won the boys race to open the morning’s events in a personal-best time of 15:41, one of a slew of personal records by local runners throughout the day.
“A lot of the boys ran their best times ever, so I figured why not go out and try to break 18?” Lancioni said. “It was nice that we could (represent) our school.
Lancioni repeated as individual champion of the girls race and helped the Slicers beat out Duneland conference rivals Portage and defending team champ Lake Central to win their first major team title in her tenure. She, too, scored a PR under the idyllic early fall weather and relatively flat course and finished in 18:09, six seconds better than her career-best 5K.
“This was a meet to test to see how I was out on my own,” Lancioni said. “I know I’m ready to continue to get better, improve and work on these big goals I have to finish out my senior year.
“We’re pretty focused on going and making it to state. I’ve accomplished a lot since I was a freshman, but I’m glad to have so many teammates by my side.”
Slicers sophomore Kailee Schoof took third, sandwiched by Hobart’s Celena Guerrero and Mindy Whidden, who were followed by Portage Rebecca Timm and Lake Central’s Megan Zajac and Sarah Hunsley.
LaPorte’s top five were in the top 13 overall, punctuated by Marie Didion.
“Our three through five are really working on finishing up as a group,” LaPorte coach John Dearing said.
Hobart’s girls were fourth, and individual runner-up Guerrero said every Brickie had a PR, including herself at 18:45.
“Mindy and I wanted to stay as close to (Lancioni) as possible and then close the gap,” Guerrero said. “We stayed close but didn’t close. She gives me a target, a mark, to see how far I am behind and how I’m doing.”
The Slicer boys were third behind champion Munster and runner-up Lake Central, but LaPorte had the individual champ, who was last year’s runner-up.
“The race went exactly the way I thought,” Didion said. “I had to stay mentally strong. I came out and was thinking, ‘Nobody is out here that’s beating me today.’”
At about the 2,000-meter mark Didion surged out of a lead pack of five runners. He knew that the second mile would be the difference maker, that all he needed was a surge and the lead was his, and he was right.
“I’m honored I’m on (the all-time list of champions),” Didion said. “I just want to see how many more things I can put my name on before I leave.”
Lowell’s Brian Blaylock was runner-up with a 15:50, followed by Munster’s Ryan Kritzer and teammate and defending champion Tom Bolanowski. The Mustangs were ahead of Blaylock before he charged past them late.
“It was really fast,” Blaylock said. “I expected Didion up there and Bolanowski. I feel really good about 15:50. Our team is going to have a lot of success, maybe another state trip.”
Wheeler’s Joel O’Shea was back on track with a fifth-place finish after missing several meets in past weekends. Lake Central’s Zach Hupp and Hobart’s Brent Dunn followed him in a three-second span.
The Mustangs won the team title and appear to be spurred by a one-point difference between making state and going home last fall.
"I can’t complain about third and fourth when those are the two fastest times I’ve ever had in 23 years of coaching,” Munster coach Aaron Brown said. “The times are getting so fast; it’s insane. I had two guys under 16 (minutes) and six total under 17, and I’m out here sweating the (team) results. Ten years ago with those times, we’d be kings.”