Ruston High School cross country runner Lily Garrett, a junior, could see the finish line in front of her Tuesday during the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships held at Northwestern State University.
She could also see Byrd sophomore Jenna Key running right beside her.
Garrett surged forward and hit the finish line to finish first individually with a time of 18:08.3 and helped lead the Lady Bearcats to a second-place team finish.
Key finished in second place with a time of 18:11.8.
“She was right beside me the whole way until the very end,” Garrett said. “I led by just a little bit most of the way but at the very end she came up right beside me.”
In the end, Garrett said her finish was as much about mentality as it was physicality.
“It was tough,” Garrett said about the race’s final moments. “I just had to stay strong and keep fighting mentally.”
RHS Cross Country coach Dustin Cochran said Garrett’s title was the end result of months of hard work.
“Lily’s season in general built up to this moment today,” Cochran said. “She always had speed. We wanted to get her strong enough to handle running three miles in the heat with somebody pushing on her the whole time. Everything she’s done has led to this. It’s really awesome.”
Garrett was thrilled to have her grandfather Dr. Edwin Davis, himself a former state champion runner at Ruston High, on hand to watch her race to a title.
“It was great. He goes to all of our meets and is just the biggest supporter,” Garrett said.
The Lady Bearcats were also helped by a 10th-place finish by Anna Naff.
“Anna Naff, when she moved here two years ago I think her PR was like 21 minutes,” Cochran said. “She ran 19.22 in 5K today. She’s the lone senior that was out there for us today. In the summer, Lily was still figuring out that she could really make the jump to be one of our consistently top runners. It was looking like Anna was really going to make a big jump, too. And she did. I told her in the summer that if she just keeps on doing what she does, she would finish Top 10.”
Cochran said Naff saved her best for last in the championship race.
“The last half mile of that race, she was coming,” Cochran said about Naff. “She was driving. She was chasing down people. If that race would have been a quarter of a mile longer, she might have been fifth. She ran awesome, and for her to snag 10th and become an all-state runner — there’s not a lot of all-state runners that come from north Louisiana, so that was awesome, too.
“Lily gets all the headlines. Lily’s legit and one of the best ever in the state. But Anna did really great — really great.”
St. Joseph’s Academy won the girls 5A team title with Ruston second and Dominican coming in third.
On the boys side, Ruston finished in third place behind champion Jesuit and runner-up Catholic of Baton Rouge.
“We were holding on to second pretty well and then the last bit we had a guy, man, he ran his heart out and the wheels just fell off,” Cochran said. “He fell on the track and lost a bunch of points. We had two runners get sick. One of them got a steroid shot this morning trying to feel better. It just wasn’t their day, but they still finished third and I was very proud to see them pull that out.”
Ruston’s Caleb Babineaux had the best showing for the Bearcats with a third-place finish with a time of 15:41.
“Caleb was leading it and coming through two miles he rolled his ankle pretty badly,” Cochran said. “It’s pretty swelled up right now. And then he actually rolled it again up on the hill at the end. He was close to the two dudes that beat him and told me. ‘Coach, I hit the track but I just couldn’t push off my leg anymore. I just couldn’t go with them.’ Who knows, if not for that he might have won it. ”
PHOTO CREDIT: Dr. Amy Vessel
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