NATCHITOCHES — As he walked toward the awards stand to pick up St. Michael the Archangel’s second Class 4A championship trophy of the day, coach Neil Borel summed up his feelings.
“We’re all the way back, and it feels so good,” Borel said.
The Warriors hadn’t won a team title since 2012 and hadn’t swept titles since 2008. But they provided one of the biggest stories on the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Cross Country meet.
St. Michael was one of only two schools to sweep titles during the annual two-day meet that ended Wednesday at Northwestern State. The other, Class B Episcopal School of Acadiana, pulled off its double play Monday.
There was pre-meet speculation about how others, including Class 5A powers Catholic High and St. Joseph’s Academy, would do. SJA finished second and Catholic was third, leaving St. Michael as the lone team champion. Parkview Baptist (girls) and West Feliciana (boys) were third-place finishers in 3A.
“For both teams there was a strategy,” Borel said. “For the girls, it was to have a certain number of seconds in the gap between runners.
“The girls worked off St. Thomas More because we knew they would pack run and we wanted to mix it up early. And for the boys, the key was match up with the first three from Assumption. By a mile and a half mark in both races that had been accomplished.”
The SMHS girls team took its turn first on the muddy, rain-soaked course. The Warriors placed four runners in the top 10, including fourth-place finisher Rachel Pendleton, who held the lead until collapsing twice on the final straight away on the Northwestern State track.
Vandebilt Catholic’s Alexa Breaux surged past Pendleton to win her fourth straight individual title in 20 minutes, 8.31 seconds. Kaitlyn Doyle (sixth), Sara Lavastida (ninth) and Katie Tanner (10th) were the other Warriors in the top 10.
St. Michael tallied the low score of 44 points, ahead of Vandebilt (83) and defending champ St. Thomas More (95).
“I wish I remembered more of the finish,” Pendleton said. “We were trying to get two runners in the top 10 and we got four. It’s unbelievable. We came here to win and that’s what we did.”
The Warriors’ mojo carried over to the boys race. Assumption’s Jacob Daigle won the individual title in 17:00.61, but the Warriors’ Alex Landry was second in 17:09.37. Reed Callegan (fourth) and Luke Hebert (sixth) also were in the top 10 to help St. Michael score 49 points. Assumption (112) and Leesville (124) were next.
“This is the best we’ve run all year,” Landry said. “I know Jacob is a great runner and I tried to stay close to him. Everybody did their job today.”
Pendleton’s difficulties finishing were just one example of how the wet course and rising humidity took its toll. Assumption also had a runner go down.
And so did St. Joseph’s Academy in its quest for a second straight 5A girls title. Annie Hill, the runner-up a year ago, was unable to finish the race. The 2014 champion, Parkway’s Sara Funderburk, also struggled to a 35th-place finish.
Those factors helped give Mandeville the opening it needed. The Skippers and Redstickers had dueled all year long. With individual champion Olivia Murphy leading the way in 18:36.18, Mandeville placed four runners in the top 10 and finished with 47 points, just ahead of SJA at 59. Gabbi Chauvin was third in 19:51.51 to lead SJA.
“It went pretty much like we thought it would,” SJA coach Mark Lahaye said. “We knew it would take everything we had to win. It’s tough to beat a team with four runners in the top 10, but I thought we ran as well as we could today.”
Catholic remained in the mix in the 5A boys race most of the way. At one point, the top four schools were separated by 10 points. Jesuit won its second straight title with 106, despite not placing an individual in the top 10. John Curtis (118) and Catholic (133) were next,
Jeffrey Kelley of Catholic placed third for the second straight season. Three other local runners — Denham Springs’ Thomas Kelton (seventh), Baton Rouge High’ Ryan Burrell (eighth) and David Toups (ninth) — also placed in the leader group.
The Parkview girls finished behind two New Orleans schools, Lusher Charter (30 points) Sacred Heart (41). The Eagles had 111, including three runners in the top 15 led by Ariel Pedigo, who was 11th. West Feliciana’s Kelly Goff finished sixth.
Jewel Sumner’s Austin Ballow won the 3A individual boys title in 16:52.74, while second-place finisher Stephen Boudreaux helped E.D. White tally the low score of 35 points, ahead of St. Louis (76) and West Feliciana (100).
Parkview Baptist’s Alex Vega, an eighth-grader, finished fourth to lead the local contingent, while Hunter Fudge was eighth for WFHS.