Slop to the Top: Cross Country Sloshes to Second Consecutive State Title
On a sloppy course at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Jesuit’s cross country team ran its best race of the year on Wednesday, Nov. 18 to claim the Class 5A State Championship trophy for the second consecutive year.
As has been the case all season, the Jays were led by the dynamic duo of junior Reed Meric and senior Carlos Zervigon. Meric, running in his first state meet, finished 11th overall in a field of 317 runners, crossing the finish line of the three-mile course with a time of 16:56. Zervigon was right on his heels, finishing in 12th place at 16:58, just two hundredths of a second ahead of the 13th-place finisher.
The story of the day, though, was junior John Kling. Kling finished 14th with a time of 17:06. “John ran the race of his life,” said coach Rudy Horvath ’86. “I don’t want to downplay the accomplishments of Reed and Carlos, because we wouldn’t be where we are without them. And they ran well. Heck, everybody on the team ran well. But in a field this competitive, you need at least one guy to have that breakout race. Today, John was that guy.”
“If you’d have promised me before the race that Kling would finish in the Top 30, I’d have been happy with that,” said Horvath. Indeed, after one mile, Kling was in 31st place.
“If he’d have stayed there, we’d be coming home with the runner-up trophy,” said Horvath. But then Kling started passing people. By the two-mile mark, he had moved up to 20th. Kling would pass five more runners in the final mile.
Junior Tanner Tresca and senior John James (who earned LHSAA Academic All State honors) rounded out the scoring for the Jays, finishing 31st (17:31) and 38th (17:38).
Jesuit finished with 106 points, twelve ahead of runner-up John Curtis. Catholic High of Baton Rouge finished third with 133 points, edging preseason favorite St. Paul’s (134). Brother Martin, which bested Jesuit at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Metro Championships eleven days earlier, finished fifth with 185.
Jesuit’s team total of 106 points is the result of adding the places in which its top five runners finished (in this case 11+12+14+31+38).
Also running for Jesuit were senior John Nimmo (67th, 18:15) and junior Eli Sisung (73rd, 18:21). Sisung played a key role in last year’s state championship, finishing 14th overall. But he was slowed in the final weeks of the season by patellar tendinitis and simply couldn’t find his groove on the mushy turf. “Eli’s got the heart of a lion,” said Horvath. “He wanted to go and his doctor gave him a green light. I had to put him out there and give him the chance. His body just wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do”
Fortunately, Kling stepped up to claim that 14th slot.
The race was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but the Louisiana High School Athletic Association postponed the meet until Wednesday to allow a rough patch of weather to pass through the area. LHSAA officials got the dry weather they wanted for the race, but the course was another matter. “That’s about as sloppy a course as my guys have ever run on,” said Horvath.
The Jays’ title defense has remarkable parallels to last year’s win. A year ago, Jesuit’s top runner finished 11th overall and two other Blue Jays placed in the Top 20 en route to a 13-point margin of victory. This time around, Jesuit’s top runner finished 11th overall and two other runners placed in the Top 20, but it was a 12-point margin of victory. The only real difference was the times–the sloppy conditions dropped Jesuit’s 11th-place time of 16:26 last year to 16:56 this year.
Asked to compare the two titles, Horvath demurred. “They’re all special. I will say this, though. Nobody expected Jesuit to do what we did today. This group, on paper, simply wasn’t as talented as last year’s group. But something happened, and it happened in just these last few weeks of the season.”
“I think it may have started when we won district. You could feel an extra spring in everybody’s step once we knew we were capable of beating Brother Martin head to head. Then, at Metro, we handled John Curtis and St. Paul’s with Eli sitting out. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that happened in these last three weeks, but we all felt it.”
“And then there’s the adversity this group fought through. We had two guys at the beginning of the year that I would have bet would have factored in at state in Eli and Johnny (senior Johnny LaForge). But they had some bad luck on the injury front. I’m really proud that some other guys stepped up. Carlos and John (James) were proven commodities. But Reed wasn’t even on our state roster last year and now he’s the 11th best runner in the state. And no one in the cross country community had really heard of John (Kling) or Tanner before this year. That’s one of the things I love about cross country. Kids can blossom in one season. And when three different guys do it for you in one year, good things happen.”
“I’ve got to give a shout-out to my assistant coaches, too (Scott Thompson ’92 and Ron Brignac). When you’ve got quality kids and quality assistants like I do, it’s hard to screw things up.”
TheNewOrleansAdvocate.com – Mandeville, Lusher win team cross country titles