The latest tug-of-war between the state’s top two girls cross country teams continued Saturday. This time St. Joseph’s Academy pulled away from Mandeville, helping to highlight the action at the Catholic High Invitational at Highland Road Park.
The Redstickers edged the Skippers by five points to take the team title, proving once again that turn about isn’t just fair play, it happens weekly for the two teams.
“They persevered through the heat just like the rest of the schools and finished well,” SJA coach Mark LaHaye said. “We’re going to probably see Mandeville again next week (at the Walker Shootout). We just have to run smart, which we do, and then gain a little ground at the end.”
A week ago, Mandeville came away with a win over No. 2 SJA at its own St. Joseph’s Academy Invitational. But this time St. Joseph’s finished with 92 points, just ahead of top-ranked Mandeville (97) and Alexandria-based Menard (100). St. Thomas Aquinas (179) and Parkway (195) rounded out the top five in the 36-team event.
Individual champion Devyn Keith helped lead John Curtis to the boys title. Keith recorded an impressive three-mile time of 14 minutes, 59.47 seconds. Keith’s Patriots finished with 69 points to place ahead of Bossier City’s Parkway (96), Brother Martin (113), St. Paul’s (118) and host Catholic High (169).
Both individual races were notable even though heat and humidity kept runners from attaining personal bests. Keith battled St. Paul’s Eric Coston for more than two miles before surging ahead in the final 1,200 meters. Coston finished in 15:18.94, while Parkway-Bossier City’s Hayden Kingfisher was third in 15:36.00.
“Finishing first is great,” Keith said. “There are tons of people who are getting firsts in other states, so I can’t really use this to hang up on my wall.
“It helps to know that I’m winning here, but I still have to stay humble and keep working hard.”
Gabrielle Jennings of First Baptist Christian beat the competition and fought her way through a lingering ankle injury to win the girls three-mile race in 18:11.72.
Parkway’s Sara Funderburk (18:52.94) was second, followed by Mount Carmel’s Isabella Hemb (19:00.06). Chelsey Jones was fourth to lead Mandeville, while freshman Annalane Lee led St. Joseph’s with a ninth-place finish.
The victory at the Catholic meet was significant for Jennings.
“I’m glad I was able to finish and to win here because I haven’t been able to do that the last couple of years (because of injuries),” Jennings said. “Winning a meet like this does mean a lot. I read somewhere that there would be 1,400 runners here.”
It looked like Mandeville wouldn’t be in the girls mix for the Catholic meet earlier in the week. A computer glitch incorrectly placed the Skippers’ varsity entrants in the two-mile junior high race.
The entries issue was easy to fix. There were questions about the lineups for both teams. Standouts Claire Crosby of Mandeville and Annie Hill of St. Joseph’s were once again on the sidelines.
The difference for SJA was the finish of its fourth and fifth runners. St. Joseph’s put three runners in the top 20 and had its five scoring runners in the top 25. Mandeville’s fifth runner finished 35th.
SJA’s Lee was the only Baton Rouge runner in the top 10. Episcopal’s Hayley Schwab (11th) and Alicia Stamey (14th) did finish in the top 15.
Catholic High’s Jeffrey Kelley returned from an injury and was the top Baton Rouge area finisher, placing fourth in 15:47.15.
Baton Rouge High’s Ryan Burrell placed ninth and was the only other local runner in the boys top 15.
Curtis placed three runners in the top 15. A trip to the Houston’s Nike South Invitational helped set the stage for the Patriots’ performance, said coach Chaz Caiado.
“I told all the boys ahead of time not to expect any PRs because of the heat,” Caiado said. “I told them to run for place. That’s really all that matters.”