Episcopal wins 17th straight boys cross-country crown

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NATCHITOCHES — There was a championship party of three Baton Rouge teams at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships on Monday.

Episcopal won its 17th straight boys title in Class 2A to lead the way on the first day of the annual two-meet event held at Northwestern State’s Walter Ledet Track Complex. Donaldsonville’s Ascension Catholic claimed its second straight 1A boys crown, while Catholic-Pointe Coupee, of New Roads, made history by winning its first 1A girls title.

“This is an honest-to-goodness good group of kids,” Episcopal coach Claney Duplechin said. “I just thought they did a good job in competing. Our race plan … they took it and ran it exactly the way we planned, and I was very happy with that.

“It doesn’t get old. I was just nervous today as I was 17 years ago. Every group has a different chemistry and personality. That’s why it’s fun to keep coaching.”

The title was 26th in the past 28 years for the Knights and their 29th boys cross country title overall.

Episcopal’s Christian Johnson and Ascension Catholic’s Zach Capello were individual boys champions. Catholic-PC’s Addie Burleigh was the 1A girls individual winner. Episcopal’s girls were the 2A runner-up to Sacred Heart-New Orleans. Ascension Catholic was the 1A girls runner-up to CHSPC.

“The goal for the girls was to be the runner-up; and for the boys, it was to win,” Ascension Catholic coach Rocky Capello said. “Every one of our girls had a PR (personal record) and some of our boys PRed, which I didn’t expect with the wind today. Usually at state it’s hard to PR, so that was exciting.”

Catholic-PC coach Jason Chauvin said last year’s third-place finish was the catalyst for his girls team’s victory.

“Last year, we left with a bad taste in our mouths,” Chauvin said. “This year, we don’t have that taste. We’ve been working the entire year for this, and it all paid off. It’s great for the city of New Roads. We peaked. I’m not a big believer in peaking on a magical day, but apparently we did.”

Episcopal capped the notable day by winning the day’s final race. Johnson won in 15 minutes, 12.87 seconds, recording the day’s fastest boys time. Johnson trailed defending champion Enrique Soto (15:22.23) by three seconds going into the final mile but surged ahead in the final 1,200 meters.

“After the second mile was when I wanted to close the gap,” Johnson said. “I kept pushing and pushing, just gradually. I didn’t get the lead until the last half mile.

“I’m really happy for my school and my teammates … they all performed real well.”

Bryan Stamey was fourth (16:03.63) and Wesley Brown fifth (16:21.10) for the Knights, who also placed Ben Murrey (11th, 16:42.76) and Alex Dunbar (14th, 16:45.71) in the top 15.

Episcopal tallied the low score of 35 points to finish ahead of John Curtis (71) and Hammond’s St. Thomas Aquinas (81) in the boys standings.

Runnels’ Andrew Brouillette was sixth (16:21.26). Tommy Brocato (eighth, 16:23.94) paced St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Ascension Catholic boys put five runners in the top 12 to tally the day’s low team score of 29 points. St. Martin’s-Metairie (78), edged Catholic-PC (82) for the runner-up spot.

Ascension Catholic had the top two boys finishers and put three runners in the 10. Zach Capello won the individual title for the second straight year in 16:01.41. The Bulldogs’ Jesse Hood was second (16:13.76), while Trey Capello was fifth (17:11.24).

“The main theme of this whole trip was to not take anything for granted and to PR,” Zach Capello said. “I went out behind the pack, and I didn’t panic. I took the lead at the one mile, and I just ran my race. I never looked back until the end.”

Also scoring for the Bulldogs were Lee Oubre (11th, 17:58.46) and Luke Spano (12th, 17:58.79).

CHSPC’s Clayton O’Callaghan (fourth, 16:51.79) and Hays Bondy (sixth, 17:16.05) were also top 10 finishers.

Burleigh won the 1A girls race in 19:26.87 and was one of four CHSPC runners in the top 10. The Hornets finished with 33 points to place ahead of Ascension Catholic (67) and Metairie Park Country Day (77).

Meredith Witty was fourth (20:31.67), Kristen Olinde fifth (20:31.93) and Olivia Fulmer sixth (20:34.37) for the Hornets. Stephanie Breaux, who placed eighth (20:40.44), led the ACHS girls who placed four runners in the top 20. Christian Life’s Breanna Elliott (seventh, 20:38.11) was a top 10 finisher for the second straight year.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Burleigh said. “I started pretty fast and went faster than the splits I was supposed to get. A lot of our sports are supposed to do well this year. And I think people were counting on us to win a state title, so this feels good.”

The finish for the Ascension Catholic girls was also a notable one. The team’s long-time coach, Joe Cavalier, is currently in the hospital recovering from surgery. Rocky Capello said the ACHS girls dedicated their performance to Cavalier.

Academy of Sacred Heart-New Orleans won the 2A girls title with 68. Episcopal (83) was second in the intense competition that also featured 2011 champion Menard-Alexandria (87) and Hammond’s STA (119).

The EHS girls placed two runners in the top 10, including eighth-grader Deven Kimbrell, who was fifth (19:17.30) and Alicia Stamey took seventh (19:21.77). Destiny Williams finished sixth to lead STA (19:18.58). University High’s Hayley Schwab (eighth, 19:36.85) was also a top 10 finisher for the second consecutive year.

One other Baton Rouge area competitor also had a notable finish. Holden’s Clarissa Smith was the runner-up in the Class B girls race in 19:02.93.