So, Samantha Withers, how many state championships are you responsible for now? Fourteen?
“Actually,” Withers said with a smile inside LSU’s Carl Maddox Field House on Thursday evening, having finished her three events in the Class B outdoor state meet, “it’s 19.”
Withers is much too humble to gloat about her brilliant athletic career at Episcopal of Acadiana, but let’s not short change a young woman seemingly born to run. After all, she’s been competing at the state meet since she was in the seventh grade.
The Lady Falcons senior won her fifth straight state title in both the 800 and 1,600 meters and finished second in the 400 meters to lead the ESA girls to their fourth straight team championship.
“It feels really great,” Withers said, “but all thanks to my coach and my teammates.”
The Lady Falcons tallied 112 points, outscoring second-place Grace Christian by 26.
ESA was one of two Acadiana area teams to claim team state crowns. The J.S. Clark Leadership Academy boys team repeated as champions in Class B led by its first-place finish in the 4x100.
That turned out to be the Bulldogs' only first-place finish of the day, but with 73 points, they still outscored second-place Quitman by 27. J.S. Clark's formula for success was numbers. Only in their second year under the LHSAA, the Bulldogs' qualified for state in 14 events.
"We gave everybody an assignment for today," said J.S. Clark coach Kenneth Winfrey. "If you're picked to come out fifth, we needed those two points or better, and everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do."
The Bulldogs received second place finishes from Shaquay Hunt (high jump) and Leodonta Valyan (300-meter hurdles) and third place finishes from Justin Washington (110-meter hurdles) and Levier Joseph (400 meters). They also finished second in the 4x400.
"My old coach from Southern University used to say, 'We'll nickle and dime you,'" Winfrey said. "And that's what we did."
Ten individual state crowns between two events would be an eye-popping achievement in itself, but Withers has won or contributed to nine other titles while at ESA. She entered Saturday as the defending 400 meter champion. She won the 3200 meters as both an eighth grader and a freshmen. She was also part of the first-place 4x400 relay team her eighth, ninth and 10th grade seasons.
“Every time I get here, I’m still shocked and amazed at how many athletes made it here and everyone on my team,” said Withers, who was named the Most Outstanding Female Track Athlete at the state meet three times. “I still get the butterflies I got in seventh grade.”
Add those 16 track titles to three cross country crowns, and you have one of the most decorated athletes to come through Acadiana in recent memory. Not to mention, her cross country team won three team championships during her time in high school.
“My coach (Sarina Lapeyrouse) is incredible,” Withers said. “We have practice every morning at 5:45 before school starts. She gets us up and brings energy to practice. It’s my teammates and her that push me so hard every day.”
“She’s very humble, and she is consistent," Lapeyrouse said. "She works hard, and she’s a competitor. She goes in knowing what she needs to do for big stages like this, and she sets her goals. She visualizes, and she goes after it.”
But Withers was not alone in the Lady Falcons’ continued dominance Saturday
Among ESA’s standouts included Kailie Williams, who finished first in the 100 and 200 meters and was part of ESA’s winning 4x100 and 4x400 teams. Kailie’s sister, Hailie, had a solid all-around day. She placed fourth in the high jump, fourth in the 100-meter hurdles and fifth in the 300-meter hurdles to rack up 10 points.
"She stepped up," Lapeyrouse said of Kailie. "She wasn't seeded first in (the 200 meter), and she came through and gave us some extra points there."
Aline Malek won the 3200 meters and finished fourth in the 1600 meters to add 14 total points. Ayden Brown and Madeline Breaux contributed six points apiece with third-place finishes in the 400 and 800 meters, respectively.
Irene Kaiser’s second-place finish in the triple jump gave ESA an ideal start with few field competitors.
"It's special because of the core group that's been with us for five years or more," Lapeyrouse said. "It's good way to finish up their careers at ESA."