As Anthony Didion will tell you: in cross country, it’s not always when you finish: it’s in what place you finish.

“It’s all mental,” said the LaPorte senior and No. 1 runner on the Slicers’ team this year. “Everyone can start out extremely fast and we can all have fast times and just see who lives the longest. Or we can have more of a mind race and sit and kick the entire time.”

Take the Bob Thomas Invitational at Lowell, for example, where Didion finished in first place with a time of 15:41.

“I could’ve run a 17-minute race today but, as long as I win, it’s okay,” he said. “Obviously I was going for a little faster time. But it’s all about place.”

Regular season wins are great, but Didion’s focus is on the Nov. 2 race in Terre Haute: the state finals meet. That’s largely because of where Didion placed at the 2012 state finals: in 84th place, with a time of 16:40.

“I was doing great at the one mile; I was in the top 20,” he recalled. “And then, about 400 meters later, they all caught me asleep and then I was in 100th place.”

“It was a big disappointment,” Didion continued. “I was going for top 25 and a medal. It was just a bad day. I’ve never competed well at state because I’m not used to running in a group. But, from the last track season, I’ve gotten a lot better at that. I’ve got a lot more experience.”

Didion was a state finalist in both the 800 and 1600 meter runs last spring, the culmination of a track season that has him as confident as ever.

“I think the track season has really catapulted him into a different level where he really feels like he can run with anybody,” LaPorte head coach Tim Beres said. “Every race this year, he’s going to be with the leaders and I’m sure that, at the state race, he’ll be with the lead pack. He’s confident enough to get out there and then it’s just a matter of holding on and hoping to have a good day.”

Aside from the mental side of the sport, Didion has had plenty of physical hurdles to overcome in his career, including a double dose of illnesses in 2011, his sophomore year, when he struggled with both mononucleosis and pneumonia.

But Didion appears to be in top form in 2013, winning the aforementioned Bob Thomas Invitational and following that up with a first-place finish in Class AAA at the New Prairie Invitational — arguably the most important regular-season race in the state.

The ultimate test for Didion, though, will be where he finishes on that early November afternoon in Terre Haute.

“That’s a tougher course,” said Beres. “I’ve never seen a top guy set a PR at that race. It’s not about setting a PR, though. It’s about getting the confidence to run with the top kids in the state. Our early goal is a top-10 finish or better. We’re definitely more focused on that this year.”