TERRE HAUTE | It was a mad dash to the finish line for Ahmad Aljobeh in Saturday's state cross country meet.
It wasn't until the results were announced that the Valparaiso junior realized his late surge earned him the 15th and last medal.
"I heard some people say, 'That guy's 15th,'" said Aljobeh, who initially thought he missed the awards by one place. "I went back to the way I raced at the beginning of the season, taking it out a little easier and finishing real strong, picking people off at the end. I'm getting stronger every year."
Aljobeh finished in 15 minutes, 55.5 seconds, over 90 seconds faster than a year ago, when he placed 82nd.
"He got a little panicky because his (timing) chips was dangling," coach Mike Prow. "The next time I saw him, I told him not to worry, that they'd get it off the video. He was steady, in the Top 25 for the longest time, and had a real nice finish. Coming by the 4K, he was 21st, so he got six guys down the straightaway. He works all parts of his game. He doesn't leave one stone unturned. He was ready for everything."
LaPorte's Mitch Hubner topped the local contingent, taking 10th (15:43).
"I surprised myself," Hubner said. "I was like, 'Wow, I'm up here.' We made goals and mine was to make all-state. I thought Top 15 would be great, but I didn't want to set it too high. Obviously, I set it too low. It was a slow first mile, which made it easier for me. I felt great. I just kept my pace through the whole thing. I knew some guys were going to die out."
Hubner was 33rd a year ago.
"Just a great run for him," LaPorte coach Tim Beres said. "Mitch runs his best in big meets because he's not constantly in control. I joked with my assistant coach that he might finish top 10 in the NCAAs. I'm just thrilled for him. He was in the front pack most of the race. He ran an absolutely awesome race."
North Central's Futsum Zeinasellassie defended his title in decisive fashion, cruising to victory by 15 seconds, crossing in 15:16.6.
Ari Coulopoulos of Valpo (44th) and Anthony Best of Portage (46th) were the top two freshmen in the field.
"I was pretty nervous. Hearing my teammates calling my name eases the pressure," Best said. "Once the gun went off, I didn't feel much. I'm happy with top 50. Ari and I have gone back and forth the whole season. I was trying to work (Chesterton's Andrew Morris). I passed him and I just went for it. I was trying to finish strong."
Columbus North easily repeated as team champion with a score of 94. Valpo was the top area entry, placing 10th (263).
"I thought we looked pretty good early," Prow said. "It's so wide open. There are so many teams. If you have some guys not do well, it can make a huge difference."
LaPorte took 13th (298).
"I felt like we could be anywhere from eighth to 16th," Beres said. "I told the kids they should feel fortunate getting to run here. It's one of the best if not the best (state meets) in the country. I can't imagine many being better. It just seems to get better and better every year."