NATCHITOCHES — Add another title for both a traditional power and a longtime underdog.
The Academy of Sacred Heart girls and Belle Chasse boys each won their second straight titles to close out the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Cross Country meet Tuesday at Northwestern State. Though their approaches were different, the results were equally impressive.
“There are no 'gimme' races in cross country,” Sacred Heart coach Greg Caro said. “It takes a team effort to get five runners across the line before the other teams do it. For us, this (title) is No. 10 … 10 in 12 years and two in a row. The troops we have keep getting better and so does the competition. Having Lusher meant we were going to be pushed, and that is what you want. It would be boring without the competition.”
Lusher Charter was the runner-up to Sacred Heart in the 3A girls competition for the second straight year. It was also a second consecutive runner-up finish for Mandeville in the 5A girls race.
The stories of three individual winners — Sacred Heart’s Mary Nusloch in 3A, Molly McHale of St. Scholastica in 4A and 5A boys champion Adam Wise of Fontainebleau also were also important on a day in which the temperatures never got as hot as the competitions.
Nusloch won her second 3A title in three years in the day’s first race with a three-mile time of 18 minutes, 47.83 seconds. The Cardinals put three runners in the top 10 and finished with 40 points, while Lusher Charter, the champion two years ago, was at 74.
Belle Chasse won the first cross country title in school history a year ago. BCHS didn’t have an individual champion, but placed four runners in the top 10, led by fifth-place finisher Alex Melcer to finish with 42 points, ahead of 4A newcomer E.D. White.
“We didn’t underestimate anybody,” Belle Chasse coach Casey McMann said. “We had the target on our back this year. Last year we had everything to gain and nothing to lose. This year we had everything to lose. We didn’t doubt our opponents, and more importantly, we didn’t doubt ourselves.”
Senior Paul Mantzel, who placed seventh, added, “To win the championship again is just amazing and probably something that may never happen again for our school.”
Of the individual champions, the reaction of St. Scholastica’s McHale to winning the 4A race in 18:27.14 was the most jubilant. She wore eye-black to limit the glare of the sun and sported a bright smile afterwards.
“I really wanted to win,” McHale said. “This was something I’ve worked for a long time. I'm a senior and this was my last chance and I’m so happy.”
Nusloch offered a different take after her second time, saying “This is an experience I think you’ll only get here because we’re so much of a family and we push each other as teammates.”
Wise established himself as the Louisiana’s top boys runner over the course of the fall season. He didn’t wilt under the pressure of being in the meet’s most competition race. In fact, Wise posted the top three-mile time of the two-day meet, winning in 15:20.56.
“I did exactly what I wanted to do, which was to go out conservative and wait to make my move at the right spot,” Wise said. “It happened to come at about one and a-half miles and I got a comfortable lead. This a great feeling.”
Runner-up Carlin Beal led Mandeville to its runner-up finish with 85 points. Mary Grace Foster placed fifth to pace Lusher, which also got a boost from 2016 champiuon Carolyn McGinnis, who returned from an injury to finish 19th.