New Kids on the Blocks

Posted August 31, 2015 / Last updated September 3, 2015

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Cross country runners take to the old UNO Lakefront course for the annual Red, White & Blue intrasquad run as the sun rises on August 29.

Cross country runners take to the old UNO Lakefront course for the annual Red, White & Blue intrasquad run as the sun rises on August 29.

Jesuit’s cross country team has some big shoes to fill.

Four of the Jays’ seven runners from last year’s state championship squad—Ben D’Antonio, Patrick LaCour, Michael Schwing, and Matthews Vargas—have moved on to college. Vargas, who posted the team’s best time at the 2014 state meet (16:26 for the three-mile course) is now lacing up his sneakers for Louisiana Tech. LaCour, the unquestioned heart and soul of the team, is walking on at Texas Christian University.

You’d forgive Coach Rudy Horvath ‘86, then, if he were to tamp down expectations for the new campaign. But the always optimistic leader of Jesuit’s cross country troops is anything but down. “I’m actually really excited about this season.”

“Look, last year was special, no doubt about that,” says Horvath of his “pack attack” that posted an unbelievably low 27-second split between its first and seventh runners en route to capturing the Jays’ first state title since 2010. “But there’s no reason this year can’t be special as well.”

Horvath’s optimism has to do with what he’s seen during summer runs and, most recently, the annual Red, White, and Blue run on Saturday, August 29.

“On paper, top to bottom, we’re actually faster than we were at this time last year.”

At the top, senior Carlos Zervigon, who was the Jay’s fourth runner to cross the line at state last year with a time of 16:41, is locked in a battle with upstart junior Reed Meric for supremacy in the team’s two-mile practice runs.

“Reed and Carlos have separated themselves a bit at the moment,” says Horvath. “Of course, anything can change. But at this moment, it looks like the real battle will be for spots three through seven.”

Based on time trials to date, there will be a host of Blue Jays competing for those five spots. Three seniors are in that number. John James, who raced at state last year, has the most “big game” experience. Johnny LaForge raced at state as a sophomore and was an alternate on last year’s state meet roster. Nick Slay posted some good numbers last year in pressure races, although he did not make the list of participants or alternates for state.

The junior class is loaded. Eli Sisung hopes to improve upon his career-best race at last year’s state meet, where he finished 14th overall with a time of 16:34. Tanner Tresca, Luke Malter, and John Kling, meanwhile, have been consistently posting two-mile times in the 11-minute range during practice. Three more juniors — Justin Guerin, Josh Harper, and Hayden Ricca — are also in the mix.

“I love that we have so many guys in the hunt,” says Horvath. “And there could be some more names that make a move. Luke Malter wasn’t really even on my radar as a serious contender for a spot at state heading into the summer. But he’s trained with a vengeance and now he’s a force to be reckoned with.”

Indeed, Malter was one of the big stories of the day on August 29, when Horvath broke his 65 varsity-level runners into three teams for the annual intrasquad Red, White, and Blue run. Meric got the best of Zervigon for the day’s fastest time. Malter, meanwhile, posted an impressive seventh-place showing.

The rest of the day’s Top Ten were as follows: Tresca (3), Sisung (4), James (5), LaForge (6), Kling (8), Slay (9), and Ricca (10).

If Horvath was excited heading into Saturday’s meet, he was even more excited afterward. “We had eight guys under eleven minutes,” he said, “but what really got me fired up was that we had 20 guys under twelve minutes. We’ve never had that many people under twelve this early in the year. We’ve never even been close to that number.”

“The more guys we have flirting with those numbers, the better chance there is for guys to break out during the season.”

The team takes to the course for real in its first official meet of the season on September 12, at the Episcopal Round Table Run in Baton Rouge.

The Jays will face even stiffer competition this year in their quest to repeat as state champs. The usual suspects — Catholic High of Baton Rouge, St. Paul’s, and Brother Martin — all pose formidable threats. As if that isn’t enough, defending 3A state champion John Curtis moves up a couple of classifications to join the party this year. St. Paul’s, with six of seven state qualifiers returning, is ranked #1 statewide in the preseason poll by Louisiana MileSplit. John Curtis, which boasts the state’s top runner in Devyn Keith, is also rated above Jesuit in the preseason poll, as is Catholic.

“That’s fine by me,” says Horvath. “I kind of like it that way. I’ll make sure the boys know that the pollsters aren’t terribly impressed with them.”