NATCHITOCHES — Gabrielle Jennings had to look away from the camera, fighting back the tears.
“I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry,” Jennings said. “With this being the last race, it’s pretty emotional.”
There was time for tears and to ponder the past, present and future for the Furman signee from Slidell’s First Baptist Christian.
After all, they’d already torn up the rest of the field, winning an unprecedented eighth straight Class C title to help open the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Cross Country meet Monday at Northwestern State.
There was little drama in the race itself, which is usually the case when Jennings runs. She ran the top 3-mile girls time of the day, winning in 18 minutes, 27.65 seconds to help jump start the two-day meet that concludes Wednesday with competition for Classes 5A to 3A.
The Monday meet offered more than just a platform for Jennings to excel. St. Martin’s won the 1A boys title and finished as the 1A girls runner-up. Holy Rosary was the Class C boys runner-up.
Holy Rosary’s Alex Lewis and Antonio Imbornone of St. Martin’s also were individual champions on an overcast day that included some light rain during the final three races.
Jennings had time to put the performance in perspective as she waited for her final awards ceremony at an LHSAA cross country meet. She now has 38 LHSAA titles in cross country and track during a career that began when she was a fifth-grader.
“I definitely wanted to give it all that I had out here today knowing it would be my last time out here with my Dad and my Pawpaw and my Mom, sister, brother all of them,” Jennings said. “It’s a big family situation. It was a big event for all of us … very emotional.
“Hopefully, next year I’ll be toeing the line with my new teammates (at Furman) at NCAA nationals. That’s the goal.”
Lewis won his second straight individual title in the Class C boys race that opened the day. He won in 16:19.36, winning the duel with Jehovah-Jireh’s Randy Carter Jr. for the second straight year.
“I just went out and I stayed with Randy. And when I had the chance, I passed him,” Lewis said. “I felt kind of dead after that, but it was OK. I had to keep pushing. I’m OK with the time.”
Imbornone set a fast pace for St. Martin’s, winning in 16:28.72. He finished 11 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher and was one of three St. Martin’s runners in the top 10.
“I wanted to stay back at the beginning, but when some of the other guys picked up the pace I took off,” Imbornone said. “I felt good most of the way and I’m most excited about how we did as a team.”
And why not? The Saints were the runner-up to Ascension Catholic the past two years but grabbed the top spot with Jesse Reeves (ninth) and Benjamin Boone (10th) also placing in the top 10.
St. Martin’s tallied the low score of 53. Ascension Catholic was second with 70 points. Houma’s Convenant Christian was third with 80 points and placed Bailey Robicheaux (sixth) in the top 10.
“After being the runner-up the last two years, this is a good feeling for us,” St. Martin coach Warren Lind said. “I thought we ran a smart race. We knew Antonio would be out there. The other guys did a good job of staying close together.”
Holy Rosary claimed its first team trophy in cross country. Hackberry was first with 63 points, while Holy Rosary was next with 74. Newman also claimed a runner-up finish in the 2A boys competition. Episcopal won its 20th consecutive 2A title with 22 points, but the Greenies were second at 107. Michael Brown placed sixth to lead Newman.
Ascension Catholic ran away with the 1A girls title with 26 points. St. Martin’s edged Catholic-Pointe Coupee for the runner-up trophy. The Saints had 88 points, just two points ahead of CHSPC.
Chloe Bartholomew, who finished ninth, led the St. Martin’s girls. St Martin’s placed four of its five scoring runners in the top 25.