Phenomenal freshman

May 9, 2019

ST. JOHN — Chalk this one up to youthful exuberance.

Nobody told Cole Raymond that finish line displays are frowned upon in track, so when the La Porte freshman used the baton as a telescope after rallying the Slicers’ 3,200-meter relay team to the Duneland Athletic Conference championship, then raising his arms to punctuate his comeback victory in the 1,600, he thought he was just showing his excitement.

“I didn’t know you could be DQ’d for celebrating,” Raymond said. “Coach (Corbin Slater) told me, no more of it. I’m done with it. My teammates were telling me, you won’t celebrate. They dared me and I kinda did it anyway.”

Rules are rules but you can pardon Raymond just a little bit for his enthusiasm. He overtook Valpo’s Ty Puskar and Merrillville’s Gabe Ochoa in the last 20 meters of the anchor leg to take the relay in 8 minutes, 15.13 seconds, about half a second in front of Ochoa and second ahead of Puskar. He was preceded by Josh Dickson, Mitchell Gits and Connor Havens in bringing home LP’s first 3,200 relay DAC title. In the 1,600, he came from the middle of the pack to seize the lead late in the third lap, then ran down Chesterton’s Matt Streeter after briefly ceding the lead. Raymond checked in at 4:31.76, 0.3 ahead of Streeter.

“If I could stay with him, I knew I had a shot,” Raymond said.

Pretty big stuff for someone who wasn’t even sure he was going to run track.

“I was on a baseball team that was pretty good,” Raymond said. “My parents and I discussed it and I decided to run. I play basketball, too, so I didn’t even train in the winter. A two-time conference champ as a freshman is pretty nice. I’m pretty pumped.”

Gits added to the Slicers’ distance presence in the meet, topping Lake Central’s Logan Russell, 9:52.35-9:54.51, in the 3,200.

“All these races, even if there no wind, trying to latch on to first and go from there,” Gits said. “I kind of thought it would be a pack race and it kind of ended up a one-on-one race, so it played out different than I anticipated. I’m usually pretty confident with finishing so I knew if I was with him, I’d be able to bring it in pretty quick. I would’ve wanted a faster time, but you’ve got to factor in the wind. It was just race to win and not care about the time. I think it’s a good setup for the postseason.”

With Havens adding a fifth, those three events accounted for the bulk of La Porte’s 46 points in the meet.

Michigan City (37) did almost all of its work in the field events with Justin Wozniak (discus) and Ryan Stefanko (shot put) sweeping the throws, while Joe Rice was long jump runner-up.

Wozniak, who added a fifth in the shot, ended the discus drama early with a toss of 167 feet, 11 inches on his first attempt.

“Normally, I work my way up throughout the meet,” Wozniak said. “Sometimes, I’ll scratch my first one and slowly go up. Today it was the other way around. It wasn’t one of those throw where I threw it and it automatically felt like a good one coming off my hand, like my (personal record). That one didn’t really feel too good, but I’m coming off a slump, so this was good to get a good throw in compared to what I have been throwing. I started fixing a few things in practice, following through on my throws, and it ended up working. I think I just relaxed after the first one. I wasn’t pushing myself as much.”

Fourth in the discus, Stefanko popped a season-best 57-11 on his second throw in the shot.

“It’s the post-season now, I’ve got to kick things up,” Stefanko said. “I felt really explosive. I haven’t been able to practice much because of the weather. I threw a couple 57s, a 56, so it was a good, consistent day. I know I’m definitely capable of 60-plus. I’ve seen it at practice. I just need to come under control with those and I can let a big one fly for sure.”

Rice didn’t take up the long jump until last season, but the City junior has come a long way in a short time.

“At first, I had no type of form, I was just jumping,” Rice said. “Then coach Ryan (Jones) came, he helped with my mechanics, to get more pop off the board, how to float. It got me where I am.”

The runner-up leap of 22-9 improved Rice’s PR by 14 inches.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “When I first started, I was a bit nervous,” he said. “I’ve been having some hamstring problems. I just told myself, be calm, focused, patient. I was making sure my mind was in the right place. My second jump, I went 22-1 1/2, so I’m like, OK, I can do this. I feel confident in myself but you always have to be humble. That’s the No. 1 thing. I love track. run it since I was a little boy. It was always my dream. I was a hot head last year. I’ve matured over the year. I’d like to break the school record (23-9). By my senior year, I should be good to go. I just can’t overthink stuff.”

Merrillville won the team title with 134 points.