Cross Country Hopes for Second November Surprise at State
Cross country pundits aren’t giving Jesuit much of a chance to claim their third consecutive crown at next week’s LHSAA state championships in Natchitoches. And head coach Rudy Horvath ’86 is fine with that.
“I don’t mind at all being the underdog,” says Horvath. “It’s liberating. There’s no pressure.”
Indeed, the pressure is on St. Paul’s, which has been the consensus top team in Louisiana from Day One of this cross country season. Expected to nip at the Wolves’ heels are district champion Brother Martin, Holy Cross, and Catholic of Baton Rouge. The Jays, according to the smart money, project to finish in fifth place.
Of course the pundits can be wrong, and they don’t give out trophies for expectations. Indeed, not many of the supposed experts gave Horvath’s squad much of a chance of repeating in as state champions in 2015. Or winning in 2014, for that matter. But Horvath’s teams have a habit of peaking at the right time, and he’s hoping that will again be the case on Tuesday at Northwestern State University.
“We really haven’t put together a complete race this season,” says Horvath. “It would be nice to do it on Tuesday.”
So what, exactly, is a complete race?
In cross country, the place in which a team’s top five runners finish is added together to compile the team’s score. The lowest score wins. The Holy Grail of cross country races is a score of 15, indicating that a team took all five of the top slots in a race (1+2+3+4+5).
While only the top five runners factor into Jesuit’s team score, the sixth- and seventh-place runners can play a pivotal role in the race as well. If they manage to finish ahead of a competitor’s fourth of fifth-place racers, that will inflate the opponent’s overall score.
“So really, the best case scenario is that all seven of my guys run PRs (personal records) on Tuesday,” says Horvath. “But even that may not be enough.”
That’s because St. Paul’s is absolutely loaded. Just how good are the Wolves? In their only head-to-head competition with Jesuit this year, St. Paul’s top four runners finished their three-mile runs before any Jesuit runners broke the tape.
“That was definitely a wake-up call,” says Horvath. “But anything can happen on any given day.”
Seniors Reed Meric, Eli Sisung and John Kling have been among Jesuit’s most consistent performers. Meric was first across the line for the Jays in every race this year—until the 9-5A district meet on Oct. 25, in which Sisung knocked him off en route to posting his best time of the year (15:57). Meric came in at 16:06, and Kling crossed the finish in 16:17.
Seniors Tanner Tresca and Luke Malter, who struggled at times during the season, both rebounded with strong performances at last week’s LHSAA regional meet, which is encouraging.
“Luke had a rough few weeks prior to that race, and Tanner’s been fighting some minor injury issues,” says Horvath. “But they both seem fine now.”
Fine, indeed. Malter and Tresca both broke the 17-minute barrier (Malter with a time of 16:52 and Tresca with a time of 16:56). It’s tempting to compare those times to the fourth- and fifth-place finishers for the Jays at last year’s state meet, but that would provide a false read, as last year’s state championship took place on a rain-soaked course. A better comparison would be last year’s district meet, in which Jesuit’s fourth and fifth-place runners crossed the finish line with times of 16:33 and 16:55, respectively.
So the Jays’ Top Five are close to last year’s state championship times, but not quite there.
Entering as Jesuit’s 6th and 7th runners are a pair of juniors, Jordan Tufts and Michael Williams. If either one of them can run the race of a lifetime, it could significantly help the Jays’ chances.
Race time is 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday.