TERRE HAUTE | A state medal would've been better, but a $1,000 check for his school and a plaque were a nice consolation prize.
Valparaiso's Ahmad Aljobeh was named the mental attitude award winner at Saturday's boys cross country finals, easing the disappointment of the Vikings' seventh-place showing.
"Our goal was to get on the podium as a team. Nothing can make up for that, even this," Aljobeh said. "But it's great, obviously. It's definitely an honor, an honor for the schools. It's an indicator of how high a standard the school has (academically) to go with athletics."
Aljobeh ranks third in his class and is Valpo's National Honor Society president. He is being recruited by Ivy League School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Naval Academy, among many others. Yale flew him out to the school after the New Prairie Semistate.
"He's the leader of our team, although he's not always our top individual," Valpo coach Mike Prow said. "When Ahmad talks, the guys listen."
Prow joked about turning in Aljobeh's nomination information late, prior to the race.
"It was supposed to be here by 11. I got it here 20 after 11," Prow said. "I told Ahmad I had the winning envelope. He's got everything going for him."
Aljobeh is the third Valpo boys cross country honoree, joining Brett Polizotto, the Vikings boys track coach, who won it in 1986, and Don Vandrey, the '65 and '66 individual state champion and long-time record-holder in the mile run.
"My parents (Eman and Zuhdy) don't care if I'm first or last," Aljobeh said. "They're always happy. (The award) is also an indicator of them. They care more about academics than athletics. Some parents push their kids toward athletics. It's a way to get scholarships. They've always stressed academics."
Zuhdy Aljobeh is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Valparaiso University.
Ahmad finished 64th.
"My body just doesn't have the base anybody else does," he said, referring to the time he missed with a sprained ankle. "The guy next to me has been running consistently since track and I've been out for a month. But you can only live in the moment and try to put the past behind you. It doesn't matter what you've done before. This was a new chance for everyone at the starting line, and it didn't work out for me and the team."
Braggin' rights: Not only did Alec Kostelnik earn a medal, the Morgan Township junior claimed family bragging rights.
Kostelnik's dad Sean ran in two state meets while at Kankakee Valley, placing 19th as a senior and 25th as a junior. His uncle Todd finished 13th as a senior at Valparaiso.
"He got us all," said Sean Kostelnik, who is also Morgan's assistant coach.
Davison's merit badge: Landon Davison was a surprise second finisher for Valpo, placing 57th overall.
"He didn't start practicing until Aug. 1," Prow said. "He was gone to New Mexico for Eagle Scouts so he didn't come to camp with us. He didn't go to the State Preview Meet with us. We didn't think he was going to be one of our top 12 at that time, and every race, he's been three, four, five. He's going right to speech and debate after this so we'll lose him for a lot of the winter. We try to tell him what he could do if he got in some consistent training. We're going to work on him."
Fast Greyhounds: Carmel's 43 points matched the third-lowest winning score for a girls team. The Greyhounds, who have now garnered 13 titles in the 31 years of the girls state finals, also have the first and second lowest scores. Valpo's 46 in 1999 stands fourth.