Don’t blame St. Paul’s cross country coach Terryl Chatham if he was a bit despondent after watching all-state athlete Zachary Albright post a Class 5A record time of 4 minutes, 12 seconds in the mile run at last spring’s state track and field championships.
“I remember sitting at that state meet and watching him finish out his career at St. Paul’s, and I thought, ‘Oh my God. He’s gone,’ ” Chatham said. “I mean, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”
It didn’t take long for Chatham’s mood to elevate.
“I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute. My second-place guy just ran a 4:16, and he’s only a sophomore.’ So, it can’t be all that bad, right?”
Chatham’s correct: It’s not bad at all to be the cross country (or track) coach at St. Paul’s.
That “second-place guy” from the state track meet is Eric Coston, who as a freshman ran a 3-mile time of 15:15.79 and pulled off the formidable feat of beating Albright for the Class 5A cross country state title in Natchitoches.
Coston, named Co-Cross-Country Runner of the Year by The New Orleans Advocate last season, returns this year to defend his individual title and hopes to help the Wolves to another team championship.
To do so, St. Paul’s will have to overcome the loss of five of its top seven runners from last year’s champions. Along with Albright (who was second at state in 15:20.66), the Wolves graduated Kraemer Jackson (eighth), DC Lipani (10th), Michael Burke (26th) and Nicholas Taylor (34th).
Back to assist Coston on the repeat quest is Spencer Albright — Zachary’s younger brother who was 13th in the state as a sophomore in 2013.
It will be a tall order: St. Paul’s top five runners totaled a staggeringly low 34 points at state. That was far better than second-place Catholic-Baton Rouge (121) and third-place Jesuit (139).
Still, Chatham and his stable of young runners think they have the mettle to get the job done again. Filling the holes left by graduation are senior Alex Harp; sophomores Patrick Napier, Colin Sullivan and Max Egan; and freshmen Stephen Schlottman and Henry Elliott.
Coston said chemistry will be key.
“It’s different from last year, but we’ve worked on getting better,” he said. “We’re talking more as a group and helping everyone out. ... I help as much as I can, but most of us already know what to do.”
Spencer Albright said an extra year of experience will help him point the way.
“It’s weird not having Zach around anymore. He was an inspiration,” he said. “This year, I’m one of the older guys. ... Three years on the team should help me.”
Napier said he relishes the chance to be one of the top runners after watching last year’s senior-laden squad dominate.
“But it’s a lot of responsibility,” he said. “We lost a lot of leadership, but a lot of kids are stepping up and doing everything they can to carry on the tradition.”
Cross country has a deep history at St. Paul’s. The team won four state titles in Class 4A before finally netting a Class 5A trophy last season. Chatham is aware that other teams will be gunning for the Wolves even more this year.
The hunt begins at the Episcopal Round Table meet Sept. 13 in Baton Rouge.
“(Whether the team is ready mentally), that’s the mystery,” Chatham said. “If they have a really good start to the season, I think they get confidence and that will help them a lot. I think they will and that they’ll do some great things this year. But if things don’t go well, how they recover — that’s going to be interesting. But they have the base. They saw how the other guys did it, through good times and bad times. That’s going to carry them.
“Each team is different, and this team is just younger. It was fun watching Zach and DC and Kraemer grow up. But it’s fun watching these guys grow up, too. This is just the beginning of that.”