NEW CARLISLE | It was smooth sailing for Anthony Didion at Saturday's New Prairie Invitational.
At least until he reached the finish line.
Right as the LaPorte senior completed the 5,000 meters, he raised his fists in celebration, only to catch his spikes on a rubber mat and fall in the chute.
"You could tell it was my first time doing it," said Didion, the fourth Slicer to win the AAA title since 2007. "I was too excited. I'm glad to fill my role."
Didion checked in at 15 minutes, 56.6 seconds, five ticks ahead of South Bend Adams' Jacob Timmons and Northridge's Blake O'Dell. Lowell's Brian Blaylock was fourth and Valpo's Ari Coulopoulos sixth.
"I felt the pace slowing," Didion said. "I didn't want to let anybody catch up, so I took it out a little harder."
Morgan Township's Ben Savage captured the A race by nine seconds with a time of 16:34.4, accomplishing a feat that eluded former teammate Alec Kostelnik.
"It's good to be the first ... but at the same time, Alec did a lot of things I haven't done yet," Savage said. "It was a good start. I just took off early and tried to relax. It's a lot harder by yourself. When you're with someone, your strides are a lot lighter. I found a good spot and just tried to study the course for the regional."
Times No. 1 Valparaiso put four runners in the top 18 to claim AAA team honors with 88 points. The title was its third in a row, the first time the feat has been accomplished since 1989 (Portage).
"We were just trying to work our groups," Valpo coach Mike Prow said. "We did a pretty good job at the start, establishing ourselves against a pretty good field. We just have to make sure we keep working the second mile hard enough so we're not getting passed."
Portage took a big step forward with a second-place finish at 114, its top five separated by 40 seconds.
"It's one of our better days in a while," Indians coach Tom Erickson said. "They're finally getting things a little figured out. They're starting to realize they're fighting for one another instead of themselves. That's the difference between now and four years ago. But we're just scratching the surface on what we want to do."
Hebron took second in the A division to Winamac, 139-145, despite an off day for top runner Ryan Witt.
"Mike MacNeill stepped up and Erik Brebner ran great," Hawks coach Mike DeFries said. "Those are guys who are used to being fifth and sixth finishing second and third. That's going to be important at the end of the year. It was a good team race."
Among other local runners, Wheeler's Joel O'Shea placed fourth in the AA division in 16:35. Kankakee Valley's Travis Conley came in fifth.
"I was an all right meet," said O'Shea, who returned last Saturday after missing a couple weeks with a shin issue. "I need to get tougher mentally. Being out for a while, you get a little soft. I have to push myself more. I'm coming back into it."