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Catholic’s Collin Hedges wins the 800-meter run Episcopal's Jostens Invitational in Baton Rouge on April 6, 2018.

High school coaches love to rely on senior leadership. Catholic High coach Pete Boudreaux is certainly no exception.

That is where Collin Hedges and James Lalonde factor in. The duo placed in the top 10 to help the Bears give Boudreaux the 17th cross country title of his 50-year career last fall.

Can Catholic repeat that feat? Six of Catholic’s top seven runners return from a year ago, and Boudreaux will rely on the two seniors to help set the tone for a season that begins Sept. 1 with St. Michael’s Bayou Boogie meet at Highland Road Park.

“Our team goal is to have five guys run sub 16-minute races in the same meet,” Lalonde said. “In the early meets, we’d like to get five runners in the top 10. We’re hard-working. I think it’s going to be a really good season.”

Lalonde broke the 16-minute mark in a three-mile cross country race as a sophomore. Hedges did it as a junior and placed seventh at the LHSAA meet. Lalonde was 10th at the LHSAA meet but has the better three-mile with a 15:39, compared to Hedges’ 15:55.

As Lalonde notes, the seniors are anything but alone at the top. Chris Cuntz (16th) Ben Langley (19th) and Joseph Ellis (25th) also scored for the Bears at the LHSAA meet. Ellis, Langley and Peter Kelly, who also ran in the state meet, are sophomores. Cuntz is a junior.

“Our team is looking great,” Hedges said. “We’re way ahead of where we were at this point last year. I love the cross country competition. It’s a team sport, but you’re also competing as an individual and have to push yourself.

“James Lalonde is definitely a great teammate and runner we count on. He’s always pushing me in practice. We both enjoy the battles.”

Hedges stands 5-foot-7 and said he runs in a compact stance with shorter strides. Lalonde is 5-foot-10 and 125 pounds. He’s a straight-up runner with longer strides. Both have improved their form and arm use.

“Coach Boudreaux really helped me with my form,” Hedges said. “I learned how to use my arms and not hunch over. He also works with me on pacing.”

Hedges (4:22) and Lalonde (9:50) were fifth in the Class 5A Outdoor Track State meet last spring in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. Lalonde prefers cross country.

“I enjoy cross country more than outdoor track,” Lalonde said. “I like running on different courses with hills and grass and facing different competitors. It’s kind of sad to see that my high school years have gone by so fast.”

Boudreaux praised the two seniors.

“They’ve paid their dues, and hopefully they’ll get their just due,” he said. “They’re special young guys. We need to stay focused as a team. This could be one of our better teams without a doubt. The guys are anxious for the season to open.”