Being cast in the favorite’s role was not a kind twist of fate for St. Joseph’s Academy a year ago. The Redstickers didn’t take home a first or second-place trophy.
Being ranked second to Mandeville High during the latter part of the year gave SJA coach Mark LaHaye the ammunition needed to get his team to focus on the most important detail: their own race.
The plan worked to perfection as the Redstickers won their first state title since 2010 by scoring 45 points ton win the Class 5A girls title on Tuesday to help close out the Allstate Sugar BowlLouisiana High School Athletic Association State Cross Country meet at Northwestern State.
“We just ran our race,” LaHaye said “I think our girls ran smart. They were real excited about the race. After a season, plus the summer, plus going back to how we finished last season this was a culmination. I can’t even put it all into words.”
Mandeville, the team the Redstickers dueled with all season, finished second at 63, while Mount Carmel was third at 96.
The Assumption High boys didn’t come into the annual meet with a high profile. Like SJA, AHS ran its own race with individual champion Jacob Daigle leading the way, running the final two miles on one shoe.
The Mustangs won the school’s first state title in boys cross country, shocking a field and premeet favorite Benton with 91 points. Leesville was the surprise second-place team at 97, while Benton had to settle for third with 101 in the day’s tightest team competition. St. Michael the Archangel was fourth at 114.
Assumption coach Chad Landry wiped a tear from his eyes when the final team standings were announced.
“This is unbelievable,” Landry said. “In my 20 years as the coach we were the runner-up in 1998 and 1999. I didn’t expect this. Not today. I’m so proud of them. Jacob is the leader. They all look up to him and what he did today was phenomenal.
“Our second and third guys both passed three people in the final 50 meters. That was the difference.”
Daigle said he lost his shoe at the near the one-mile mark. He picked up the shoe and carried it across the finish line, posting a winning time of 16 minutes 32.39 seconds. Trey Lowery (ninth) and Trevontae Washington (11th) were the late race movers and shakers Landry mentioned.
“I knew I had to keep going,” Daigle said. “All I could think about was staying in front and finishing.”
St. Joseph’s Academy’s Annie Hill was not an individual champion. After sitting out much of the season with an illness, the sophomore was more focused on team goals.
Parkway’s Sara Funderburk passed Hill late and won the 5A girls race in 18:40.12. Hill finished in 18:45.20 and got exactly what she wanted, a low scoring number for her team.
“It (individual title) didn’t happen for me today,” Hill said. “I’ve still got two more years for that. This was about my team and helping us do as well as we could.”
LaHaye conceded that Hill, “Did her own thing.”
Mandeville placed two runners in the top six. Sara Leblanc’s ninth-place finish, combined with the 11th-place finish of Madelyn Andries and 12th-place finish of Jennifer Bennett gave the Redstickers the leg up on the title they so desperately sought.
The key was going about it the right way. Mandeville raced ahead in the first mile, while the SJA runners waited back, pacing themselves for the final two miles.
Amber Ferguson of Denham Springs (seventh) and Baton Rouge High’s Kennedy Smith (10th) were other top local finishers in the 5A girls race.
There was no shortage of notable local finishes in the other races.
Baton Rouge’s top individual boys finisher was U-High’s Hank Patrick, who was the 3A runner-up for the second straight year. John Curtis won the 3A title and E.D. White Catholic was second. West Feliciana and was third and UHS fifth. WFHS’ Hunter Fudge was ninth.
“Today was about me having a good last race,” Patrick, a senior, said. “My goal was to get second. It was really about how well you could race. I concentrated on getting in front of people and increasing the gap behind me.”
Catholic High placed third in the 5A boys race with 102 points, behind champion Jesuit (85) and Brother Martin (98) in another hotly contested race.
Parkway’s Hayden Kingfisher won in 15:35.77, the day’s top three-mile boys time. The Bears’ Jeffrey Kelly was third and Pierce Hill eighth. Thomas Kelton of Denham Springs placed sixth.
St. Michael put two competitors in the top 10 of the 4A boys race – Reed Callegan (fifth) and Alex Landry (sixth). The Warriors’ Rachel Pendleton was ninth in the 4A girls race won by St. Thomas More.
U-High’s Ellie Pennington (fourth) and Parkview Baptist’s Amber Deselle (sixth) were the top local finishers in the 3A girls race won by Sacred Heart-NO. U-High placed fifth.