PORTAGE | Woodland Park evokes plenty of fond memories for Mike Prow, who called the course home as a young middle school cross country coach.
"I remember having to use that little machine with the chalk to put down the (course) lines," Prow said.
Prow returned Saturday to his old stomping grounds, where his Valparaiso squad captured the Duneland Athletic Conference Championship, topping LaPorte 36-52.
"It's nice to win here," he said. "It's always a great feeling to be the champions of this conference. Every race is a dress rehearsal to this point. We look to win and take the momentum going from here."
The Vikings did so by placing four runners in the top eight -- Ahmad Aljobeh (third), Peyton Reed (fourth), freshman Ari Coulopoulos (fifth) and Michael Bobos (eighth).
"We ran together. It's what we've been trying to work on all year," Prow said. "If Ahmad can take Peyton and Michael along with him, we don't have to have him leave from the get-go to get a low spot. Little Ari just keeps moving up. You won't look back in the record book and see many freshmen who finished in the top five."
The Slicers had race winner Mitch Hubner, who pulled away from Merrillville's Dylan Harrison and Aljobeh to prevail in 15 minutes, 49 seconds, but couldn't match Valpo's front-line performers.
"Valpo's been moving up all year," LaPorte coach Tim Beres said. "When they put it all together, they have a ton of talent. I thought it would be closer than it was. We count on our one through four to put up low numbers to give us a little leeway and they didn't perform as expected."
Except for Hubner, who separated himself from the contenders in the woods and went on to win by more than 12 seconds.
"I pushed it a lot to see if he would wear down because I know Ahmad's better the last half of the race," Hubner said. "I figured if I could do that, I'd have no problem the last mile. I guarantee I felt better than they did. I went to the start line ready to go."
Harrison checked in at 16:03, 10 seconds in front of Aljobeh.
"It's not that I didn't have (the energy)," Harrison said. "When (Hubner) made his move, he moved more than what I expected. He did basically what I thought he'd do. This lets me know that when semistate rolls around, I can hang with them, and my plan will be completely different."
Aljobeh's also training to counter Hubner's early pace as the postseason goes on.
"He knows I'm a more patient runner, that I'm going to try to get him at the end," Aljobeh said. "I'm working on trying to get out faster. At the beginning of the season, we weren't doing much speed work. It was a good race, especially from the team aspect. Everybody else ran great."
Chesterton finished a distant third, competing without top runner Ryan Cutter, who was hospitalized with possible appendicitis.
"Like anything else, when a key component in your system is out, things don't work necessarily as well as you want," coach Tim Ray said.