ST. JOHN | Wind, cold, mud.
It might as well have been a day at the beach for Valparaiso's Ari Coulopoulos in Saturday's Duneland Athletic Conference Championship.
The Vikings sophomore sailed to the title in 15 minutes, 44 seconds, earning his first win over LaPorte senior Mitch Hubner, who was a distant second in 16:03.
"I felt so good," Coulopoulos said. "I was behind him at (the dual), at New Prairie, at Culver. I've been in front and he'd always out-kick me. We've been talking about how cool it would be to finally beat him. I was ready."
The outcome proved crucial as Valpo had to eke out a closer-than-expected victory over LaPorte, 52-55.
"A great effort by Ari," Vikings coach Mike Prow said. "He knows what his strong point is -- keeping the pace going. We still want to try to keep the group together a little longer. Some of the other guys didn't have the greatest start.
"We wanted to dictate the pace and make people pass us. Our depth is our strong point. We just need them to stay a little closer to each other."
Peyton Reed was third for Valpo, but there were no other Vikings in the top 12.
"We should've had five all-conference, for sure," Prow said. "We were shooting high. We wanted seven."
Hubner, the defending champion, thought the heavy footing hindered him as opposed to the thinner Coulopoulos.
"Every time he hit mud, he was skipping across it, I guarantee you," Hubner said. "When I hit the mud, I'd sink. Obviously, he runs better in the mud."
The girls race, which figured to be a wide-open chase for first, wasn't close. Valpo, running at full strength, won decisively with 48 points. Crown Point was runner-up at 75. The Vikings lost two DAC duals but take the overall title by capturing the meet.
"It's been a very long process, bringing them back," said coach Karen DeVries, whose trio of seniors (Katelyn DeVries, Lauren Bigger and Tricia Joll) have all been hampered by injuries.
"Two months ago, nobody knew if we'd have any of them. It's been grueling at times. They'd come to practice, do what they could, then spend two, three hours doing other stuff after the others had gone home. It was the only thing they could do to have a chance to get back where they were."
Katelyn DeVries, who suffered a fractured foot in the summer, didn't defend her title -- placing second to LaPorte's Elena Lancioni -- but is encouraged by her progress.
"It was definitely frustrating not being able to run all summer," Katelyn said. "We never knew when we were going to come back. But we're getting back up with the rest of the team. I'm doing a lot better. I feel by the end of the season I'll be back up there (with Lancioni)."
Lancioni crossed in 18:57, 15 seconds in front of DeVries.
"I did exactly what I wanted to do, go out and drive the race," Lancioni said. "(The conditions) didn't bother me at all. I just wanted to get out in front and run my own race, not someone else's."