Less than a week after winning its sixth-consecutive state championship, the St. Joseph’s Academy cross country team recorded its best-ever finish in the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals South Regional at Bear Branch Park in The Woodlands, Texas. The Redstickers finished fourth in the girls’ 5K championship division of the meet, which featured 21 teams and 182 runners.
The meet, held November 20, is one of nine regional qualifiers sponsored by Nike Cross across the country. SJA competed against top teams from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
In addition to competing in the seeded Girls Championship race, SJA fielded teams in the Girls Rising Stars and Girls Open Combined races, finishing fourth in both.
“What a phenomenal day for SJA cross country,” said coach Mark LaHaye. “It’s hard to put into words what a huge accomplishment it is for our program to achieve three fourth-place finishes against the best of the best Texas teams. We certainly gave notice that we are for real.”
SJA’s seven runners in the championship race were senior Maddie Kate Gardiner, 51st place, 19:44.4; sophomore Grace Rennhoff, 58th place, 19:50.6; senior Elise Jones, 68th place, 20:03.8; sophomore Hannah Vaughan, 73rd place, 20:06.8; freshman Michelle Daigle, 87th place, 20:17.6; junior Emma Claire Hendry, 94th place, 20:26.0; and senior Alexis Napoli, 127th place, 21:09.0.
In the Girls Rising Stars race, in which SJA entered the only all-freshman team, the Redstickers finished fourth out of 17 teams and 162 runners. Melia Hooper finished seventh in 20:16.1 followed by Kenzie Stentiford, 26th place, 21:13.0; Kaiser Stentiford, 34th place, 21:31.5; Sara Pasquier, 43rd place, 21:38.7; Ainsley Brignac, 53rd place, 21:52.4; and Mary Ellis Beach, 64th place, 22:23.3.
In the Girls Open race, with 28 teams and 288 runners, SJA finished fourth. Sophomore Stella Vincent finished 24th in 20:52.8 followed by senior Ava Lemoine, 44th place, 21:14.8; junior Claire Beyer, 51st place, 21:21.0; senior Amelia Cochran, 52nd place, 21:21.0; sophomore Julia Monzon, 75th place, 21:51.4; sophomore Madison Mannino, 102nd place, 22:16.8; sophomore Kaitlyn Francise, 122nd place, 22:39.2; sophomore Elise Brown, 137th place, 22:56.8; sophomore Katelyn Shannon, 139th place, 22:59.3; and sophomore Kathryn Casey, 144th place, 23:03.5.
“Consider this,” LaHaye said. “Southlake Carroll, the top cross country team in all of Texas, had more runners in the Rising Stars race than we have on our whole team. Yet we were able to compete against them and other top teams in every single race. And we beat many of them. Our fourth-place finish in the Open Race truly shows the quality of the depth on this team.”
The SJA cross country team finished the 2021 season as the number one ranked team in Louisiana in the LTFCA composite poll.
Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Photos courtesy of Tina LaHaye