By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston High School’s Lily Garrett has shown she’s one of the best distance runners in the state.
Now the junior is being recognized as one of the top prep athletes in the nation after being named the 2021-22 Gatorade Louisiana Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
That award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Garrett as Louisiana’s best high school girls cross country runner.
“I’m so honored. It really hasn’t processed yet,” Garrett said Monday of receiving the award. “I guess it will hit me at some point.”
Earning the award means Garrett is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year award to be announced in February
Garrett is the first Gatorade Louisiana Girls Cross Country Player of the Year to be chosen from Ruston High School and follows in the footsteps of Dyllon Nimmers, who was named the 2020-21 Gatorade Louisiana Boys Cross Country Player of the Year last year before moving on to LSU.
Garrett recorded a time of 18:08.30 in the 3-mile LHSAA 5A State Championships this past season to win an individual title while leading the Bearcats to a runner-up finish as a team.
She also won the 5A Region 1 meet with a personal-best time of 17:27.31 — the state’s fastest girls time in 2021 — which ranks as the seventh-fastest girls three-mile time in state history.
Garrett was back to burning her name into the record books last week as she set a meet record at the LSU Indoor Qualifiers with a time of 11:03.48, breaking the record of 11:03.85 set by Carmen Carlos of Mobile Parks in 2010.
“She ran 11.03 in the 3,200-meter run on Saturday. That’s the fifth fastest indoors time ever ran by a Louisiana girl,” said RHS head Cross Country coach Dustin Cochran. “So she’s starting to get to that level. Look at Dyllon Nimmers last year. It took him until his senior year to get to that level. But now, she’s starting to show as a junior that she can be a national-class kid if she keeps building on it.
“To earn the Gatorade Louisiana Runner of the Year Award as a junior gives her the opportunity to be really well known and gives her validation for all the hard work she’s put in as well as the realization that she got rewarded for it. So where does she want to go from here? I think it also shows younger girls around here that they might be able to do it, too, with the same kind of hard work and effort.”
Garrett, who has been invited to the New Balance Nationals meet in New York in March, led last week’s meet from start to finish.
“I knew I wanted to go out strong like Coach Cochran and I had been talking,” Garrett said. “So I got out and just ran fast. I really didn’t know how fast I was going to go or that I was going to break any kind of record. But I was very happy with my time.”
A 2021 all-state selection, Garrett was unbeaten at the three-mile distance last fall and her winning time at the state meet marked the sixth-fastest high school time in course history at Northwestern State in Natchitoches.
Garrett, who has maintained a 3.22 GPA in the classroom, said she won’t let winning the Gatorade award as a junior put any added pressure on her.
“I try not to think about it as pressure,” she said. “I’m just trying to see how fast I can get and trying to stay focused and keep going. This is only the beginning.”
Opposing coaches have also taken notice of Garrett’s abilities.
“Lily Garrett is a running force to be reckoned with,” said Zachary High School head coach Julie Fink. “She was definitely the breakout runner in the girls realm this past season. It’s exciting to see a young woman race with such confidence and a willingness to push her limits. Her bold running inspires others and makes both her and her fellow competitors better.”
Through Gatorade’s “Play it Forward” platform, Garrett has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national organization of her choosing that helps young athletes realize the benefits of playing sports. Garrett is also eligible to submit a short video explaining why the organization she chose is deserving of one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants, which will be announced throughout the year. To date, Gatorade Player of the Year winners’ grants have totaled more than $3.5 million across more than 1,300 organizations.