NATCHITOCHES — No rule requires a team that wins a state title to also have the top individual finisher at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Cross Country meet.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt — something traditional powers Episcopal and Ascension Catholic proved while winning boys titles to help open the annual two-day meet held at Northwestern State on Monday.
“So today was true cross country, I’ll tell you that,” ACHS’ Zach Capello said. “There was a huge head wind most of the way. It was also freezing cold and wet.
“Of course, it was a huge, huge goal to get that fourth (individual) championship. But it was also more important for me to compete for our team so we could get the fourth championship.”
Capello won his fourth individual title in 16 minutes, 49.83 seconds to help the Class 1A Bulldogs finish with 38 points en route to their fourth consecutive team title.
Just as impressive was Episcopal, winner of an unprecedented 19th straight title in the 2A boys portion of the meet. The Knights had four runners finish in the top 10 and also provided a surprise at the top while scoring 34 points.
Sophomore Kris Jackson told Episcopal coach Claney Duplechin he was planning to “go for it (individual title)” last week. Jackson got it with a winning time of 16:41.25, 15 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, It was his first individual title.
“It was a real challenge at the start with the wind,” Jackson said. “I started out slow and then tried to start passing people. At the end I felt real good so I just went for it.”
There also were seconds for the two programs. Both the Episcopal girls and ACHS girls were second in their races. Ascension Catholic also had the 1A girls individual champion in Stephanie Breaux, who won in 19:15.87.
Breaux’s time was just over a second slower than the time run by the state’s top runner, Class C champion Gabrielle Jennings of First Baptist Christian.
“I got to see how our boys ran and it helped me prepare,” Breaux said. “I said OK, if they can do I can do it. I tried to stay behind a few girls and draft off and them, but then I decided to pick it up. When I got on the (Northwestern) track, I knew I had it.”
Jehovah-Jireh’s Randy Carter Jr. also provided a highlight by finishing second in the day’s first race for Class C boys. Carter, who won the title in 2013, placed second to Holy Rosary’s Alex Lewis in 17:15.29.
“Next year I’m wearing long tights and spikes,” Carter said. “Every time I tried to pick up the pace, I almost slipped. Next year I’ll get better and performer better.”
Few could argue with the performances of Episcopal and ACHS. Newman (90) and St. Thomas Aquinas (137) finished well behind Episcopal, which extended what is currently the nation’s second-longest title streak in boys cross country. EHS has won 28 boys titles in the past 30 years.
“He just has the desire,” Episcopal coach Claney Duplechin said of Jackson. “He wanted it so bad. Great heart. We knew conditions and the course were going to be tough. We purposely started them out running really slow, maybe 10 seconds slower then normal.
“It allowed them to rest a bit and make a big move in that second mile. It’s amazing. Not one of them started out as a great runner. They’ve worked and worked to get themselves to this point.”
Michael Lee (fourth), Kenny Schafer (seventh) and Alex Dunbar (10th) also finished in the top 10 for the Knights. The Dunham School’s Zane Anderson grabbed a fifth-place finish. Teamwise Runnels finished fourth with 148 points. John Howe finished 14th to pace the Raiders.
Jordan Zeringue, who started running with Capello eight years ago, was third for Ascension Catholic. Cedar Creek and St. Martin’s both finished with 75 points in the 1A race. Cedar Creek got the runner-up spot based on a higher finish by its sixth runner.
Christian Life was fourth at 136, led by 10th-place finisher Westin Williams.
“We knew the weather was going to be like this a week ago,” ACHS coach Rocky Capello said. “So we started focusing on effort. I’m proud of them for what they did.
“Zach’s goal when he started was to be competitive at state one day. We never dreamed of four titles. I’m proud of him as a coach and his dad. Jordan achieved one of his dreams too, so that was nice.”
Metairie Park Country Day scored 28 points to unseat ACHS (42) as the girls champion. Sophie Daigle was third for the Bulldogs individually. Catholic-Pointe Coupee, led by eighth-place finisher Kristen Olinde was third at 87. Christian Life was fifth and led by No. 9 finisher Breanna Elliott.
“It’s tough to beat a team that runs like Country Day did,” Capello said.
Alexandria-based Menard edged Episcopal by three points, 46 to 49 in the 2A girls competition. St. Thomas Aquinas was third at 76.
Hayley Schwab and Alicia Stamey were fourth and sixth, respectively for the Knights in the race won by Lakeside’s Alissa Landers in 19:15.44. EHS was third a year ago.
“I always contend that double-A girls is one of the toughest classifications,” Episcopal coach Eddie Cole said. “We have a very young group, no seniors and two eighth-graders. We wanted to be the hunter, not the hunted. I couldn’t be happier for my girls.”