Baton Rouge area strong again in cross country

When it comes to high school cross country in the Baton Rouge area, there are two things you can count on.

First, several highly regarded meets are held at Highland Road Park each year. The list started with last weekend’s Bayou Boogie Classic and goes through the Catholic High Invitational on Oct. 5.

Second, several teams and individuals always contend for top honors at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s state meet held in Natchitoches each November.

Within those parameters, changes abound, a fact that was evident when St. Joseph’s Academy won the girls division and Catholic High placed second in the boys division at the Bayou Boogie meet.

“Last week was good because we really had no idea how this group would do,” Catholic coach Pete Boudreaux said. “We’ve got so many new faces. I think several other coaches right there with us (were) wondering how their teams would do because they’re in the same boat with us.”

Episcopal’s 35th Round Table Run on Saturday at Highland is the next meet in what should be an interesting progression.

There is one notable coaching change. Mark Lahaye took over at St. Joseph’s for Sam Young, who retired last spring.

Lahaye coached Our Lady of Mercy’s middle school team for 12 years. He is a first-year coach with a team packed full of youngsters, including freshman Annie Hill, who won the Bayou Boogie three-mile girls race in 19 minutes, 1.72 seconds.

“Baton Rouge has such a rich tradition in cross country,” Lahaye said. “Through the years with the coaches you have like Pete, like (Episcopal boys coach) Claney Duplechin, (St. Michael coach) Neil Borel and (Episcopal girls coach) Eddie Cole and also Sam I’ve had the chance to learn so much.

“This is very much a work in progress for us. In our top 10 we have five runners who are either freshmen or sophomores. Andree’ Laville is our only senior in that group.”

There is much more to cross country in Baton Rouge than just the 5A schools. Episcopal boys have a string of 17 straight 2A state titles. St. Michael the Archangel (4A girls), Ascension Catholic (1A boys) and Catholic-Pointe Coupee (2A girls) also are defending state champions.

Walker and East Ascension are among the other 5A programs to note. St. Michael has a tradition of state titles and runner-up finishes for both its boys and girls teams. West Feliciana seems to always finish on or near the awards stand in 3A and was runner-up last year. Ditto that for the 2A Episcopal girls.

As compelling as the team dynamics are, it will be just as interesting to see how the top newcomers develop and how older runners transition into prominent roles.

CHSPC senior Addie Burleigh was the All-Metro MVP a year ago and will compete in her first race at Highland this weekend. The Hornets return their lineup intact.

St. Michael senior Haley Gregoire was the runner-up to Hill last week and has distanced herself from past injuries that cost her one full season.

Baker’s Dynasty Williams, the 3A state champion, is another experienced runner.

Hill and Episcopal freshman Alicia Stamey are part of the wave of girls newcomers to note. SJA’s Shelby Granier and Ascension Catholic’s Stephanie Breaux are other younger girls to note. Stamey was fifth last weekend.

Stamey’s older brother Bryan, emerged as Episcopal’s and possibly the area’s top runner by finishing fourth last weekend with a three-mile time of 16:50.10. Zach Capello, the reigning 1A state champion, was sixth.

Jeffrey Kelley, who finished seventh, leads the pack of new competitors for Catholic. Hill’s brother, Pierce, placed 12th. University High’s Hank Patrick (ninth) is another veteran who fared well in the season opener.

“We’ve got Bryan back, along with Ben Murry,” Episcopal’s Duplechin said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys in there challenging for those other spots in the top five. And we’ve got some junior high kids who may move up later in the year.”

Catholic-PC coach Jason Chauvin said he reminds his team each day that they’re running straight ahead in a new season and there is no looking back.

“I’ve told our girls congratulations on last year and reminded them what we did is in the past,” Chauvin said. “As of now, we haven’t won anything. It’s a new year with new challenges.”