Catholic High senior Cole Stafford looked down at the faded lettering on his orange cross country T-shirt and smiled.
“It’s a lucky shirt,” Stafford said. “It’s the only one I ever bought and I’m comfortable in it.”
Stafford proved he is just as comfortable with the Highland Road Park course on Saturday by posting a winning three-mile time of 15 minutes, 33 seconds, helping the host Bears to a second-place finish at their Catholic High Invitational.
It was the fourth win at Highland for Stafford this fall. It was also a day in which repeat performances were the norm. A total of 74 full varsity teams and more than 1,300 runners competed.
Eighth-grader Gabrielle Jennings, of Slidell’s First Baptist Christian, won the three-mile girls varsity race for the second straight week in 17:55. Brother Martin-New Orleans and St. Joseph’s Academy repeated as team champions.
St. Joseph’s also won its fourth meet of the year at Highland in convincing fashion, while Brother Martin edged Catholic for the second straight week.
“We had a different group this week because some girls ran better on the junior varsity last week and moved up,” SJA coach Sam Young said. “It was a chance for them to get in the mix.
“It wasn’t a week where the times got faster, but I think they ran extremely hard.”
Defending Class 5A state champion St. Joseph’s finished with 43 points and was the lone team to score under 100. Mandeville’s Fontainebleau (115), Mandeville (149) and Alexandria-based Menard (174) were the other top finishers in the 29-team girls field.
Brother Martin and Catholic were the only teams to finish with less than 100 on the boys side.
BMHS had 67 points, just ahead of Catholic at 73. Another local team, Episcopal (133) and Jesuit-New Orleans (161) also led the 45-team boys field.
“I really thought we stepped up to the challenge,” Brother Martin coach Brian Gallagher said, “We won a meet earlier this year and then came out flat the next week.
“I challenged them (Brother Martin team) to come out strong again this week. I know its a cliché, but it was a one through seven effort. In practice, we talk about passing people in the last mile and that’s what we did.”
Neither individual winner had to worry about getting passed. Jennings’ winning time was 14 seconds slower than the winning time she ran at last weekend’s St. Joseph’s Academy Invitational.
Jennings started her race with a blazing 5:40 first mile and finished 49 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Mallory Robichaux, of Menard, (18:44).
“Last week I guess I didn’t feel as much pressure as I did this week,” Jennings said. “I feel like I went out too fast on the first mile. I guess it was kind of like an off week.”
Jennings was the only person who saw her performance “off.” Only one other runner, Fontainebleau’s Nicole Durham (18:46), finished in less than 20 minutes.
Kassidy Noto (fourth, 19:06) led St. Joseph’s. Parkview Baptist’s Morgan Schuetz (sixth, 19:29), SJA’s Mary LaHaye (seventh, 19:42) and Rebecca Andries (eighth, 19:44) and East Ascension’s Tayla Grieff (ninth, 19:46) were also in the top 10.
Catholic’s Stafford got puished push by Episcopal’s Christian Johnson, who finished second in 15:40. Nick Franco (fourth,15:56) led Brother Martin.
Joseph St. Cyr (fifth, 16:03) and Brian Primeaux (sixth, 16:13) were the other local boys to place in the top 10.