Devyn Keith, Annie Hill lead teams to cross country wins _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John Oubre -- Catholic High's Jeffery Kelley sprints to the finish line for third place on Saturday in the Bayou Boogie Invitational.

There’s nothing wrong with being cast in the role of the frontrunner.

Baton Rouge’s contingent headed to the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Cross Country meet want to prove that being an underdog can be just as good.

Teams in Classes 3A to 5A begin their races at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Northwestern State with the 3A girls race. Winning a title or perhaps moving a step closer to one is the goal for group led by traditional powers Catholic High and St. Joseph’s Academy in 5A.

St. Michael the Archangel in 4A and two 3A boys teams, University High and West Feliciana, also warrant watching. Bone-chilling temperatures are again expected. Some red hot team competitions could ease the chill.

“What I expect you’ll see is five to six teams that really get after it at the top,” Catholic coach Pete Boudreaux said. “St. Paul’s is the defending champion and they are the only team to beat (3A) Curtis this fall. Then you’ve got us, Jesuit, Parkway and Brother Martin.”

St. Paul’s is the defending 5A boys champion and returns last year’s individual champion, Eric Coston. Parkway’s Hayden Kingfisher and Catholic’s Jeffrey Kelley also were top-10 finishers.

While the 5A boys teams spent the entire season ranked below defending 3A champion John Curtis and its top runner, Devyn Keith, it’s a different story for the 5A girls. St. Joseph’s and Mandeville alternated winning major races during the season while battling injuries and illness.

Even though top runner Annie Hill has returned to form after missing much of the season with an illness, SJA coach Mark LaHaye said Mandeville has to be the favorite.

“Mandeville is still without their top runner, but they have three girls who are running under 19 minutes and that’s tough to beat,” LaHaye said. “We just need to go and be concerned about running our race and nothing else.

“I wouldn’t count out Dominican or Mount Carmel either. You’ve always got to be looking for the black (Dominican) and the brown (MCA).”

Olivia Murphy of Mandeville was second last season, while SJA’s Hill was fourth, just ahead of Mount Carmel’s Isabella Hemb.

St. Michael coach Neil Borel is calculating his team’s chances to move up in 4A even though he expects defending boys champion Benton and girls champion St. Thomas More to be solid once again. Assumption is another boys team to watch.

“I think we have a chance at a trophy,” Borel said. “A lot will depend on how we handle the course and the conditions. We’ve got to run our best race.”

Alex Landry leads SMHS’ boys team. In addition to STM, St. Scholastica, Vandebilt Catholic and Ursuline could also factor into the girls picture.

University’s Hank Patrick was the 3A runner-up to Curtis’ Keith last season and is expected to be one of the top competitors again. WFHS coach Nick Smith said he expects Curtis and E.D. White to be well ahead of the pack. Hunter Fudge leads the Saints.

“U-High was third and we were fourth last year,” Smith said. “We’re going to have everybody coming back. If we can find a way to hold them (UHS) off, it would be big.”