LOWELL — Alec Fleming was joking around with Lowell boys cross country coach Jake Rakoczy this week about Saturday's Northwest Crossroads Conference meet on the Red Devils' home course.
Fleming didn't run in last year's league championship. He chose to rest instead.
"I told coach I wanted to finish my high school career without ever winning a conference title," Fleming joked. "I haven't won one yet in track either."
Rakoczy said no, so Fleming put on his running shoes.
And as he darted out front of the pack his teammate, Caleb Chapman, was on his heels and that changed Fleming's perspective.
"The way Caleb was running I figured I had to get going," Fleming said. "I thought, 'Why not, I might as well win this.'"
And that he did.
Fleming's time of 15 minutes, 36 seconds bested Chapman's 15:56 as the Red Devils' depth gave them their third straight conference championship.
Lowell had 19, Highland was second at 66 and Hobart was third with 76.
The Red Devils' Gabe Sanchez was third at 16:13 and Dustin Hudak was fifth at 16:33. Lowell's Fernando Rosas was eighth and Jacob Durr finished ninth.
"Even though we were expected to win there was no pressure," Sanchez said. "We were all looking for our best times and places."
"We were picking up race experience and trying to build on that," Hudak added.
Chapman finished second in the NCC for the second straight year. After spending his freshman and sophomore years at South Newton, coming to a deep and talented program like Lowell's has changed the dynamic.
"Going from a small team to a larger one has been nice," Chapman said. "Working together as a team is something we all try to do and I think that worked (on Saturday)."
Hobart's Diego Gomez finished fourth at 16:27. Highland's Isaac Sytsma was sixth with a time of 16:38. Kankakee Valley's Trevor Conley was seventh at 16:39. And teammate Dean Schmidt was 10th at 16:44.
When Lowell's girls team walked out to the back of its school grounds and saw the sunshine and cool breezes only one thing came into their minds. It became the Red Devils' theme and motto of the day.
"We all said this is 'PR' weather," Lowell junior Jordyn Boyer said. "So that's what we did."
Boyer won her second straight NCC championship with an all-time best time of 18:13. Teammate Annalise James finished second at 19:08 and Brooke Hayden was fourth at 19:21.
The Red Devils won the team championship with a 24, while Munster was second at 61, Hobart third at 69 and Highland fourth with an 85.
Hobart's Holly Shaginaw finished third (19:15) and Christina Shaginaw was seventh (19:39). Munster's Maria Blaesing finished fifth with a 19:30 and teammate Kaylee Galvan was 10th.
Highland's Grace Aurand finished eighth and Ciera Lee was ninth.
Both Lowell teams said this is the time to start beating earlier times with sectionals starting next Saturday.
"I was motivated by my team," Boyer said. "I was running against the clock. Almost everybody on our team got a 'PR' and this is the time of year to start doing this."