The St. Joseph’s Academy cross country team continued its winning ways on September 22, finishing first in the Gulf Coast Cross Country Stampede hosted by West Florida Technical High School at the Escambia County Equestrian Center in Pensacola.
The meet was sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association and National Federation of State High School Associations. It featured 58 teams from the six-state area of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.
SJA scored 44 points in the varsity 5K race, which had 39 complete teams and 307 finishers. The Redstickers were followed by Harrison High School of Kennesaw, Georgia (138 points); Baker High School of Mobile, Alabama (165); Mandeville High School (174) and Niceville High School of Niceville, Florida (207).
The Academy’s top seven varsity finishers were senior Lauren Hendry, 3rd place, 19:36; junior Isabelle Brown, 4th place, 19:49; sophomore Sophie Martin, 9th place, 20:13; junior Virginia Dirks, 12th place, 20:27; sophomore Anna Camille Eagleton, 16th place, 20:40; freshman Maddie Kate Gardiner, 20th place, 20:50; and sophomore Kate Ritchie, 24th place, 21:04.
In the JV 5K race, SJA scored 21 points to finish first out of 11 complete teams and 145 finishers. Top seven JV finishers were freshman Lilly Leonard, 1st place, 22:02; senior Angelle Martin, 2nd place, 22:08; freshman Ava Lemoine, 4th place, 22:44; junior Mary Claire Saia, 5th place, 22:46; senior Leanne Livingston, 9th place, 23:30; freshman Olivia Hotstream, 10th place, 23:56; and freshman Amelia Cochran, 12th place, 24:05.
“This was another outstanding performance by our teams,” said head coach Mark LaHaye. “Competing on an unfamiliar course at a different distance against mostly unknown teams was a great mid-season experience for our team. Our girls were really excited about the opportunity and totally focused on the task at hand. We had collectively researched the competition, and we knew going in that Harrison, Baker and Niceville were the teams to beat. We may have raced a little bit conservatively, but we raced in packs in both races, and it paid off. In the varsity race, we finished 3-4-9-12-16, and in the JV race, we finished 1-2-4-5-9. When you look at the team scores in the varsity race, we had all of our top five runners across the line before the number two runner of any other team.”
Brown said the competition was an incredible eye-opening experience. “We were able to put our team up against great competition and see how we would perform,” she said. “I am extremely proud of our win and the number of girls on the team who stepped up to their fullest potential to help us achieve it. We are all ready for the next challenge.”
Dirks said traveling to Pensacola was new and exciting, and running an unfamiliar course was a great challenge. “It was really exciting to try something we’re not used to because there were tons of teams we had never seen or heard of,” she said.
Sophomore Lydia Poche won the post-race dance contest, and Eagleton advanced to the final five. “We were actually joking after the awards ceremony that they won’t be inviting us back as we were leaving with all of the awards,” LaHaye quipped, adding his thanks to the parents who traveled with the team. “A special thank you and shout out to Brad and Rachel Martin for cooking an awesome pastalaya dinner with all the fixin’s for the team and the parents the night before the race.”
Next up for the runners is the SJA Cross Country Invitational, set for September 29 at Highland Road Park. The varsity race begins at 8:30 a.m.
Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Photos courtesy of Tina LaHaye