ST. JOHN — High five, snap, look up, shake it out.

What might sound like steps in a dance routine are really buzz words the Valparaiso girls cross country team uses to stay on point during the race.

"We have a lot of small visual cues," sophomore Ava Gilliana said after she and Logan Ferngren went 1-2 to pace the Vikings to a comfortable victory in Saturday's Duneland Athletic Conference Championship.

"Logan went over them with me last year before the first race and this year we told them to the freshmen. It's fun to have teammates encouraging you during the race."

Gilliana and Ferngren ran in tandem virtually the whole race, Gilliana crossing the finish a tick ahead in 18 minutes, 3 seconds to defend her title and help Valpo do the same with a team score of 36. Shelby Bullock took third in 18:06 to lead Chesterton (68) to its best finish in several years.

"We've definitely improved as the season's gone along," Gilliana said. "We've learned from our previous races. It was hard to come back knowing we were second the last time."

That last time was the Skorupa Invitational in late August, when Crown Point topped the Vikings.

"You have to put everything in context," Valpo coach Boomer Nellessen said. "That was our first varsity race and we had three freshmen in the top five. That's a huge part of why we've continued to get better. I know we're going to do well when their warmup is quiet. They're Chatty Cathys and all you could hear was their breathing. We wanted to come back and have a better showing. It's nice to win the early ones, but you like it better when you win the later ones."