Cross Country Up and Running, Coach Rudy Not So Much
It’s six-thirty on August 27, a Saturday morning. Most teenagers are hours away from even stepping out of their bedrooms. But 80 Jesuit students, more than five percent of the school’s enrollment, are stretching on the open space where Elysian Fields meets Lakeshore Drive. In less than three months, on Nov. 15 to be exact, seven of these student athletes will earn spots in “the pack,” and travel to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches to attempt to win Jesuit’s third consecutive LHSAA Division One cross country team championship.
After weeks of practice, this morning is the boys’ first real test on the clock, the annual Red, White and Blue intrasquad run.
Coach Rudy Horvath ’86 leans on his crutches and surveys the situation. “I love that we have so many guys in the program,” he says. “It’s a lot more likely that guys will emerge over the course of the season when you have a big pool.”
He’s split his squad into three teams, each captained by a senior. Reed Meric leads the red team, Eli Sisung heads up the white, and Luke Malter captains the blue. And while the seniors dutifully lead their charges through warm-up runs, everyone know this isn’t really a team competition. This is a time for individuals to stake early claims to their spots among the program’s elite runners.
Malter is one of those looking to make a statement. He just missed the cut last year, and watched as his Jesuit teammates raced to glory. He wants in this year. “Luke had a great spring track season, and followed that up with an excellent summer,” says Horvath before the race. “I think he’ll be fine today.”
That turned out to be a bit of an understatement. Malter crossed the finish line in third place.
Sandwiched around Malter were four other seniors, all of whom raced at state last year. Meric, who finished 11th overall at state (16:56 on the three-mile course), re-established himself as Jesuit’s top runner with a first-place finish. Sisung, meanwhile, seemed unfazed by a knee condition that slowed him towards the end of last season, finishing second. John Kling, whose epic final mile in last year’s state meet was arguably the deciding factor in Jesuit’s team title, finished fourth. And Tanner Tresca, who finished 31st in last year’s state meet, crossed the line in fifth place.
Rounding out the Top Ten were senior Josh Harper, freshman Brandon Hall, senior Justin Guerin, junior Michael Williams, and junior Jordan Tufts.
“Josh certainly got my attention today,” said Horvath. “And how about Brandon Hall? I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Certainly not me.”
Whoever ends up racing in the Top Seven at Natchitoches will be going against some formidable competition. Brother Martin, as always, is loaded. Ditto for Catholic High (Baton Rouge) and St. Paul’s (Covington).
“And you can add Holy Cross into the mix this year,” says Horvath. “They’re well coached and return their entire Top Seven from a team that was very competitive.”
“We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. I’ll just have to find a way to get my guys to rise to the challenge.”
That may be more logistically difficult than usual for Horvath. Known for his cat-like ability to sprint around area cross country courses to exhort his troops, Horvath finds himself on injured reserve as the season opens.
“Better me than one of my guys,” laughed Horvath, who tore his ACL demonstrating pole vaulting technique over the summer.
“I will admit that it’s killing me not to be able to get out on the course, though. I can’t even chase them on a bike. But, hey, there are a whole lot of people, particularly in Louisiana right now, who have worse problems than I do. I’ll figure out a way to work around this.”
“I’m lucky to have guys like Richard and Ron to help me out (assistant coaches Richard Bohn and Ron Brignac).”
The Jays will lace up their sneakers for their first official competition on Saturday, Sept. 10, when they participate in the Mount Carmel Cub Run Invitational at City Park.