CULVER | Last spring, Alec Kostelnik got a taste of competing with the big boys at the IHSAA state finals in track and field.
Now the Morgan Township junior is on a quest to earn another state meet berth, this time for the cross country state finals Oct. 29 in Terre Haute.
He passed another test Saturday at the 30th annual Culver Academies Invitational, competing on a big stage that included nine races featuring nearly 2,800 runners from more than 80 schools from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky.
Kostelnik placed second in the small-school varsity race, clocking a 16:07.9 over the 3.1-mile soggy course on an overcast morning.
"I let the first-place guy (Jacob Reinking of Fort Wayne Concordia) go because I knew he was a 15:50 guy, and I just tried to stay ahead of the next pack," Kostelnik said.
"I'd like to get down a little bit more, probably in the 15:40s or 15:50s. I still have some work to do but I'm feeling pretty solid."
As a sophomore, Kostelnik's best cross country time was just 17:20. But he credits a solid winter of training for his improvement, and he earned a surprise trip to the track state finals where he placed 25th in the 1,600.
Still, Kostelnik and Morgan coach Mike Grennes know it will be a dogfight at the New Prairie Semistate, where only individuals who finish among the Top 15 advance to state.
"He's made a huge jump from last season to now, and he's enjoying it," Grennes said. "He's got a strong finish. He's got all the right ingredients to get there."
So does the Valparaiso boys team, although the Vikings finished a disappointing sixth in the big-school varsity race which featured state-ranked No. 2 Carmel knocking off No. 1 Columbus North, 92-100, for the team title.
Sophomore Ari Coulopoulos ran with the leaders most of the race, leading the Vikings with a fifth-place finish in 15:49.5. Junior Peyton Reed was 11th in 15:57.
But the Vikings, still without top runner Ahmad Aljobeh who is recovering from an ankle injury, had a bit of a drop off to their next three finishers.
"Our first two guys ran great," Valpo coach Mike Prow said. "Our 3-4-5 lost contact with each other before they got to 800 meters, and our times reflected that. It's not a training thing, it's an execution thing.
"Once we get our No. 1 runner back, that will make a difference."
LaPorte senior Mitch Hubner placed fourth overall in 15:45.8, leading the Slicers to a 10th-place finish out of 36 teams. Crown Point (13th), Portage (20th), Chesterton (23rd), Munster (25th), Lake Central (27th) and Michigan City (33rd) rounded out the local teams.
In the girls open race, Valparaiso senior Katelyn DeVries held off LaPorte sophomore Elena Lancioni to place eighth in 18:41.1.
Chesterton placed 13th out of 33 schools with 347 points to lead area schools, while Valparaiso was next at 348. Defending state champion Carmel won the big-school title with 76 points led by individual winner Kelcy Welch, a sophomore who ran 18:07.6.
In the small-school girls race, South Central freshman Kyleigh Werner placed 16th in 20:21, while Kouts senior Tara Hamstra was 20th in 20:33.
In other races, Valparaiso's boys placed fourth in the frosh-soph division led by third-place finisher Kevin Hickey in 16:38.