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With nine state titles and three runner-up titles in the span of 20 years, the quest for the tenth cross country state title was one of the great performances throughout this season by many talented athletes. This season was different for the sole reason that so many runners were improving and literally "making a run" for their spot in the final top seven of the year to compete in the state championships in Natchitoches. With the exception of the top five runners, no one was willing to make the decision easy for Coach Greg Caro for the sixth and seventh spots. The six runners were separated by only 30 seconds, so those last two cherished spots were not earned and awarded until the very last moment, which is a testament to depth of the team.
The morning of November 13, the team gathered around the fountain and was surprised by Middle School students waving symbolic white tissues from the third story windows while yelling and clapping for their schoolmates who were leaving to represent them on the "battlefield" of the three-mile race. It was a very heartfelt send-off indeed! The team headed back to Carondelet St., where they ran through a tunnel of Upper School students wishing them good luck and safe travels as the team boarded the bus for the five-and-a-half-hour bus ride.
Upon arriving in Natchitoches, the team checked out the course for the next day, did a jog, and discussed the Cardinal strategy. After, the team went through the normal state routine of having a pasta dinner and checking out the Christmas lights on the Red River. Before they knew it, it was time for bed to rest up for state race day.
The top seven runners had been decided. Mary Nusloch '19, Madeline Kling '19, Olivia Gaines '20, and Ellie Sundell '20 had all run there before and knew what lied ahead of them. The other three - Cali Jane Luetkemeier '23, Olivia Boyd '22, and Emily LeBlanc '21 - were newcomers to this venue and atmosphere, but when it came down to it, they didn't look like newcomers.
As the runners and fans made their way to the starting line, Caro called the team over for the annual application of the "magic dirt" that he saved from every victorious year. With just moments to spare, the team said their prayers, and it was time to line up on the start line.
As expected, other teams bolted to the front, and Mary Nusloch '19 passed the first half-mile and one-mile markers in the lead. The rest of her teammates were doing their parts to work their way to the front also. Lusher's athletes ran a quick first mile and were ahead in scoring; however, by the time the second mile rolled around, the Sacred Heart runners had moved up numerous spots to secure first place for the remainder of the race.
Mary Nusloch's '19 (1st, 18:47) run was dominating, and she captured her second individual cross country state title in the last three years. Cali Jane Luetkemeier '23 (7th, 20:31), in her very first state race, was the second Cardinal to cross the finish line and finished seventh overall, earning herself All-State top ten honors. Madeline Kling '19 (9th, 20:42) followed close behind, also earning All-State honors for the fifth year in a row. Olivia Boyd '22 (12th, 21:06), running her first state race, paced herself very well and made a strong push at the end to finish in fourth place for the Cardinals. Olivia Gaines '20 (13th, 21:07) ran a tough race and provided the team with quality points. The final newcomer, Emily LeBlanc '21 (15th, 21:24), moved up a total of 16 spots after the first mile. Ellie Sundell '20 (20th, 21:50) worked hard throughout the race, made up ground on other runners, and finished by giving everything she had.
With the race complete, and four and a half months of training done, the Sacred Heart Cardinals' cross country team was crowned state champions of Class 3A for the tenth time in 12 years.
Individual Results (124 total runners):
1st - 18:47 - Mary Nusloch '19
7th - 20:31 - Cali Jane Luetkemeier '23
9th - 20:42 - Madeline Kling '19
12th - 21:06 - Olivia Boyd '22
13th - 21:07 - Olivia Gaines '20
15th - 21:24 - Emily LeBlanc '21
20th - 21:50 - Ellie Sundell '20