BR, N.O. teams in mix for cross country titles

Possibilities abound as teams descend on Natchitoches for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s two-day State Cross Country Meet.

Competitors in Classes 2A to C compete on Monday near Northwestern State’s Walter Ledet Track Complex, starting at 10 a.m. with the Class C girls race.

Many of Monday’s possibilities involve Baton Rouge and New Orleans teams, along with several top individuals.

The Episcopal boys are the pre-meet favorite in Class 2A and seek their 17th straight state title. Class 1A Ascension Catholic won its first boys state title last season.

Defending champion Menard-Alexandria leads a group of teams expected to contend for the 2A girls title. Meanwhile, Catholic-Pointe Coupee is the favorite among the 1A girls teams after placing third a year ago.

In Class C, Slidell’s First Baptist Christian is led by freshman Gabrielle Jennings, one of the state top competitors.

“At this point, all the work is done,” Episcopal boys coach Claney Duplechin said. “It’s of matter of doing the things you’re supposed to do, like getting enough rest, eating right and approaching the race the right way.

“We accomplished one of our goals by doing well at metro last week. By no means do we take anything for granted. You’ve got St. Thomas Aquinas and John Curtis out there, just to name two teams that are very good.”

The individual competition for the 2A boys should also be interesting. Lakeside’s Enrique Soto won the title last year ahead of Episcopal’s Christian Johnson. Last week, Johnson set a school record by winning the BR Metro Meet race with a three-mile time of 15 minutes, 11 seconds, leading the Knights to the team title.

Like Duplechin, ACHS coach Rocky Capello said his team is focused, but will take nothing for granted. One of Capello’s two sons on the team, Zach, is the defending 1A individual champion.

“The motivation is a little different than last when we were trying to win that first title,” Capello said. “They guys have focused on running faster times and with speed work we’ve improved our gap times.

“Of course, we know both St. Martin’s and Metairie Park Country Day will be in there to challenge us, along with some other teams like Catholic-PC.”

Catholic-PC coach Jason Chauvin admits the expectations are high for both of his teams.

Junior Addie Burleigh is expected to contend for the individual title for the Hornets, who have been ranked ahead of other top 1A girls teams, including Country Day and Ascension Catholic all year.

“We’ve done everything we can to put ourselves in a position to be successful,” Chauvin said of the CHSPC girls. “Our boys aren’t going in with the idea we’ll keep up with Ascension Catholic. They’re a cut above the rest of us. We just want to compete and get a chance to be on the awards stand.”

Episcopal girls coach Eddie Cole said his team is one of maybe five or six that could nap a first and second-place trophy in the 2A girls competition. Menard, Hammond’s St. Thomas Aquinas, Newman, Sacred Heart-New Orleans and McGehee-New Orleans are others.

Katie Keller has battled through an ankle injury to help lead the Episcopal girls.

First Baptist’s Jennings helps lead the Class C contingent and posted an impressive winning time of 18:34 a year ago. Another girls runner to note in Class B is Holden’s Clarissa Smith.

Elizabeth (boys) and Georgetown (girls) were Class C champions last year. While Anacoco (girls) and Midland (boys) were the Class B champions in 2011.