NATCHITOCHES — Some point totals were closer than they have been all season. One title was decided at the end of one three-mile race by mere seconds.
The final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA state cross country meet may have provided a little heartbreak, but it did not disappoint.
St. Joseph’s Academy led the way, winning the Class 5A girls title over Mandeville by just four points at Northwestern State on Tuesday.
St. Michael the Archangel placed second in Class 4A boys and girls. West Feliciana claimed its first trophy in four years, taking second in the 3A boys race.
It was the second 5A title in three years for the Redstickers, and coach Mark Lahaye didn’t hide his excitement. He pulled freshman Virginia Dirks, the team’s fifth-place finisher, front and center, as the team celebrated.
“This is what it is about right here, this one right here finished fifth for us,” Lahaye said. “I think we ran smart; we ran our race. It came down to the wire like every other race we were in with Mandeville. It came down to our five, six and seven runners. They ran well, and we ran well. It could have gone either way. It was the best race I’ve seen all year.”
The Redstickers put three runners in the top 10 and their top five in the top 14 to finish with 40 points. Mandeville was second at 44.
Lauren Hendry placed fourth to lead the Redstickers, with Annie Hill (fifth) and Jennifer Bennett (sixth) right behind.
Hendry summed up her team’s race by saying, “I was right with Annie (Hill) ,and we kept telling each other look ahead, look ahead, look at them (Mandeville). We know what we have to do. It (title) means so much. It feels so good to have it done.”
Mandeville freshman Charley Chehardy made the biggest splash winning the individual title in 18 minutes, 46.02 seconds. With teammate Ally McCulley placing third, the Skippers appeared to be on track to win.
But MHS’ No. 4 runner Ann Byerly suffered an injury and was unable to finish the race, providing a huge momentum shift. SJA also was without a top five runner in Elise Bordlee, who was injured in a meet at Northwestern late last month.
“It was a great race, and I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Mandeville coach Anthony Pequeno said. “Charley won, and Ally was third. I feel bad for Ann because she wasn’t able to finish the race. We’re OK. That’s a great team we came out second to.”
St. Michael coach Neil Borel expressed a similar sentiment after the Warriors finished as the runner-up in the 4A boys race. St. Michael was the defending champion and the favorite but placed second to Belle Chasse by two points. BCHS finished with 90 points, while St. Michael was at 92.
Ultimately, Belle Chasse's No. 5 runner, Paul Mantzel, placed 33rd and was seven seconds ahead of St. Michael's fifth runner.
“We've won a state title by one point before, and now we've lost one by two points,” Borel said. “This was as good as we could do on this day. This was Belle Chasse’s day today. They were better than us. I’m still proud. Not too many teams get two trophies in one day.”
Vandebilt Catholic won the 4A girls title with 28 points, while St. Michael was next at 57. The Warriors had the top local individual finishers of the day. Freshman Caitie Brumfield and senior Alex Landry were the runners-up in their 4A races.
Chehary’s time was the top girls time. Eric Coston of 5A champion St. Paul’s had the top boys time of 15:19.41.
E.D. White Catholic (boys) and Sacred Heart-New Orleans (girls) were the 3A champions. Carencro's Key Alfred won the 4A individual title.
A tight 3A girls competition finished with Sacred Heart at 52 and Lusher Charter at 66, followed by Parkview Baptist at 72.
West Feliciana coach Nick Smith had a simple strategy for his runners — stay with E.D. White. The Cardinals scored 24 to win, but the Saints were next with 70.
“That last mile I just had to kick it in,” said West Feliciana's Chandler Sullivan, who finished third. "We’re all juniors with one senior. We take every workout like it’s our last one. That’s what made us stronger. It paid off today.”