St. Paul’s cross country teams have been consistent the past couple decades. They have produced five team state championships and individual champions, as well.
But to listen to the 2015 St. Paul’s cross country team, 2014 was a year of inconsistency. Never mind they won their district meet in decisive fashion and finished fourth in one of the most closely contested state meets in years.
For the Wolves, fourth place could be considered “inconsistent,” considering they won the Class 5A title in 2013. The “first place or no place” mentality has driven this program to lofty heights.
“We lost it between the ears,” St. Paul’s coach Terryl Chatham said. “We were young and very inexperienced. We were very inconsistent. We had great meets when we knocked off (Class 3A state champion John) Curtis without (our top runner). We beat (Class 5A champion) Jesuit in a meet in Mississippi. We had, in my opinion, one of the best teams in the state. We just couldn’t do it week in and week out.”
So this year’s goal is to realize that every meet is important. Senior Spencer Albright, who placed seventh in the Class 5A meet last year with a 3-mile time of 16 minutes, 16.74 seconds, said the way to find consistency is mental preparation.
“We’re focused on the mentality of running,” he said. “Our workouts are harder because the mental side is everything. It’s everything before, during, and after running. … If you never cut a workout, a cool down, a stretch, a core exercise, when it comes down to it in the race, you know you can do it. This team, I fully believe, can do it.”
Albright hinted that the Wolves got caught up in the pressure of being the favorite. He referred to some “spotty performances” that said could have been resolved by minimizing stress.
“It’s like shooting paper in a trash can,” he said. “You have three shots — one from directly above the can, one from 15 feet, and one from 40 feet. There’s no stress just dropping paper in the can. That’s easy. And from 40 feet, there’s also no stress because you think you have no chance to make it. But from 15 feet, there is a chance, and you stress.
“That’s like running. If we had no chance of winning state, I don’t think it would be hard mentally. The year we won state, we believed we were the best team out there. We have to do that again.”
Leading the way for the Wolves is junior Eric Coston, who finished second last year at state (15 minutes, 39.36 seconds) and won the individual title in 2013 as a freshman. He has lofty goals in mind, but ones that many believe are attainable.
“We want to win a team championship, and I want to win another individual title,” he said. “I want to qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals. My PR is a 14.49 for 3 miles. I want to break the school record (14:41 set by Albright’s older brother Zachary in 2013.) I think I can get it. If I work hard enough, I can.”
With John Curtis moving to Class 5A, Patriots standout Devyn Keith, winner of the past two Class 3A titles, will stand in Coston’s way. But Coston, with success of his own on his side, is undeterred.
“We’re pretty good friends,” Coston said. “We talk to each other a lot after a race, and we’re usually running with one another during the race. But when it comes time to compete, we compete.”
Colin Sullivan, also a junior at St. Paul’s, is another of the Wolves’ top runners. He said he has looked up to the Albright brothers and Coston and wants to continue his steady climb up the list of the state’s top runners.
“I’ve had the privilege of watching those guys run and succeed,” Sullivan said. “Last year, we had leadership, but we weren’t as successful. We are doing everything we can to get to our goal. The way we worked this summer was great.”
Other runners among St. Paul’s top seven are Henry Elliott, Patrick Napier, Stephen Schlottman and Tristan Smith. Chatham likes his team’s depth and said his team could challenge for a state title in November if they stay focused.
“I think all the rankings go out the window until you run your first race,” Chatham said. “I think Jesuit will be good again. You have Brother Martin, Catholic of Baton Rouge, Curtis; they’ll all be good. Whether you’re No. 1 or not, you still have to do the work. These guys on this team, I’m not worried about them. I just want them to be consistent.”