NATCHITOCHES — Metairie Park Country Day watched and waited for a year. The Cajuns knew exactly what they wanted, and they got it: a Class 1A state title in girls cross country.
“What we concentrated on all season was running as a pack and keeping the other teammates in eyesight,” Country Day coach Brendan Minihan said. “This is a mentally tough crew. It came together today. Ascension Catholic is tough too. They beat us pretty soundly last year, and we’ve enjoyed competing against them. That was motivation for us also.”
Country Day placed of all five of its scoring runners in the top 11 while winning the 1A title on the first day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Cross Country meet at Northwestern State. It was the first title for the Cajuns since 2011.
Newman was the Class 2A boys runner-up. Two other New Orleans area boys teams, Holy Rosary in Class C and St. Martin’s in 1A, placed third.
First Baptist Christian’s Gabrielle Jennings enjoyed a record-setting day while winning the Class C three-mile girls race in 19 minutes, 14.82 in frigid conditions. She finished more than four minutes ahead of the next closest runner.
It was the seventh cross country title for Jennings, one more than Lauren Byrd, who won six titles for University High in the 1990s.
“When I started running, I never thought about anything like this,” Jennings said. “I do appreciate it. There’s something about this race.
“All year I practice splits I want to run here, but there’s always funky conditions. It’s hot, it’s wet or it’s cold. I’m happy with what I have and what I was able to do. It was rough out there.”
Holy Rosary also had an individual champion in Alex Lewis, who turned the tables on 2013 champion Randy Carter Jr. of Jehovah-Jireh.
Lewis and Carter dueled during the first two miles of the day’s first three-mile race with temperatures were below 40 degrees. Lewis said he passed Carter right before the runners entered the stadium track, winning in 16:56.97.
“I just fought real hard to get through and then won it at the end,” Lewis said. “I pushed myself hard this year because I came in second last year. I stayed behind him (Carter) like my coach said, and I just blasted him at the end.”
Hackberry won the Class C boys title with 52 points, edging Johnson Bayou by two points and Holy Rosary by four points. Holy Rosary’s Thomas Crowley (third) and Wesley Simon (eighth) also were in the top 10.
The Country Day girls had the day’s most impressive team finish. Esme Benjamin was fourth to lead the quartet of runners who helped the Cajuns take the title with 28 points, ahead of defending champion Ascension Catholic (42) and Catholic-Pointe Coupee (87).
Kathryn Fagan (fifth), Davis Goldenberg (sixth) and Kathleen Kelleher (seventh) put Country Day in position to win despite the fact that ACHS had two of the top three finishers, including individual champion Stephanie Breaux, who won in 19:15.87. Maddie Michaud was 11th to compete the scoring for Country Day.
“It’s not just competition,” Country Day runner Marilyn Bolton said. “It’s all the training we’ve put into it and us coming together as a team. We were telling each other we did it. We came here and fought as hard as we could.”
Newman’s finish offered a stark contrast. The Greenies finished second to traditional power Episcopal without having a runner in the top 10.
“There are no words to describe how proud I am of these guys,” Newman coach Randy Zell said. “That’s especially true for the young guys who stepped in and did well all year. I think this is going to give them even more passion to work and improve through track.”
Lyons Blum finished 11th to pace Newman, a third-place finisher in 2013. Episcopal had four runners in the top 10 and tallied 34 points, ahead of Newman (90) and St. Thomas Aquinas (137).
Newman senior Walter Lapeyre, who finished 16th, also credited the underclassmen.
“You want to win,” Lapeyre said. “To be part of and to watch the way these guys competed is something I’ll remember.”
Newman also had the second-place finisher in the 2A girls race. Haley Johnson posted a time of 19:37.12, 32 seconds behind winner Alyssa Landers, to help the Newman girls finish fourth in the 2A race won by Alexandria-based Menard.
Ridgwood’s Mark Golay was fourth and St. Martin’s Antonio Imbornone took fifth in the 1A boys competition won by Ascension Catholic with 38 points. Cedar Creek and St. Martin’s both finished with 75. Cedar Creek got the runner-up finish based on the 27th-place finish of its sixth runner. St. Martin’s sixth runner placed 31st.