The St. Joseph’s Academy cross country team won the Class 5A state championship for the fifth year in a row and for the sixth time in seven years. With three runners in the top nine finishers, the Redstickers scored 48 points to outdistance the 23-team field in the LHSAA Cross Country Championships.
Rounding out the top five were Dominican (84), Mount Carmel (123), Fontainebleau (139) and Ruston (139). The 5A championship race was held November 17 at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
Senior Sophie Martin finished in second place in 18:37.6 followed by junior Elise Jones, fourth place, 18:55.3; sophomore Emma Claire Hendry, ninth place, 19:21.7; junior Ava Lemoine, 12th place, 19:35.5; freshman Grace Rennhoff, 21st place, 20:03.2; senior Lydia Poche, 24th place, 20:17.1; and junior Maddie Kate Gardiner, 26th place, 20:19.4.
Coach Mark LaHaye said the Redstickers began the season as the top-ranked team in the Louisiana Coaches Poll and finished the season with the number one ranking. “This speaks to the consistency and dedication to excellence the team performed with all year,” he said. “The performance at the state meet – our ‘5-peat’ – was dominating. This team was unstoppable, and they persevered through a crazy 2020 season. They all have so much to be proud of.”
“We had a wonderful race,” Martin said. “I am so proud of my team and my individual performance. This is was my last cross country race, so I just wanted to take advantage of the amazing opportunity I had and perform to the best of my ability for my team.”
Jones said the day is one she will remember for the rest of her life. The victory was a fitting culmination to months of hard work. “Standing on the podium after finishing in fourth place made the nine months of training totally worth it,” she said. “It’s hard to believe we were questioning whether we would even have a season at one point. After months of hard practices, early mornings and disciplined schedules, I know we’re all ready to enjoy some much-needed rest and recovery over Thanksgiving break. Then, off-season training begins on the track.”
Rennhoff said winning the state championship in her first year on the team was an amazing experience. “I have never been prouder of my team,” she said. “This was definitely the best experience I have ever had, and it makes me so happy to be a part of such a hard-working team. The trophy was a perfect way to end a great season, especially because of COVID-19.”
Poche said she was very proud of her team and its perseverance in the face of adversity. “Despite all the challenges faced, it was a truly memorable year,” she said. “It felt good to finally receive the trophy after all the hard work we have put in for months. The senior class is undefeated in their four years on the team.”
Lemoine said her first state meet experience exceeded all expectations. She said it was especially meaningful because she battled back from an early season injury to compete. “I thought that my chances of running top seven were gone,” she said. “But I surprised myself.”
Lemoine said it was especially inspiring to be cheered on by her teammates and family. “Whenever I would pass them, they would all be cheering loudly, and it motivated me to move up,” she said. “I am also so thankful for such wonderful coaches. I could not have gotten to where I am today without them. They put so much dedication and time into the team, and it really shows in our statistics.”
“State was a great day for the team,” Gardiner said. “We all tried our hardest and pushed each other. My teammates really stepped up to the plate and led the team to a victory. I’m super proud of their efforts, and I’m really going to miss our seniors.”
Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Photos courtesy of Tina LaHaye and Nan Murtagh