State Champs: Lady Bearcats make their mark

By T. Scott Boatright


BATON ROUGE — The Ruston Lady Bearcats’ had a mission heading into the 2022 Indoor track and field season – taking state.

On Saturday at the LHSAA Div. 1 championships at LSU’s Carl Maddox Field House, the RHS girls made it mission accomplished.

And they left no doubt in the process.

It was the first indoor state title for the Lady Bearcats, who won the 2021 outdoor state championship.

The Lady Bearcats dominated in the 2022 indoor state championship run with 79 points, well ahead of runner-up St. Joseph’s Academy 57-point finish.

It was Ruston’s relay teams that set the Lady Bearcats apart from their competition.

The RHS team of Anna Naff, Sara Naff, Sydney Owens and Zoie Holstead finished first in the 3,200m run with a time of 9:58.02. Jada Williams, Bryana Craig, Shinaya Branch and Kiona McAllister teamed up for a another top showing in the 1,600m at 3:56.71, setting a new meet record and the fourth-best time in the U.S. in the process.  

“Coming in, we knew that if we just took care of business our girls would pull it off,” Whitaker said. “We had room for mistakes – not many – but we felt good going in. We felt we could win it. I told them what it would take would be a total team effort. And they bought in. 

“We scored points in the distance events, the sprints and the field events. That’s what put our girls over the top, and I’m just so proud of the way they performed. They executed. They took care of business.” 

In the 800m relay, Ruston’s team of Tyana Jackson, Williams, Branch and Chesea Tatum took second place at 1:45.27.

Craig also took a pair of first-place individual finishes – the girls high jump (1.75m) and the long jump (5.59m) while adding a third place showing in the 60m hurdles (8.82).

In the 400m individual run, Williams took second place with a personal best 56.8 while Ruston’s Lily Garrett set a personal record in her second-place finish in the 1,600m run (5:05.52) while also taking second in the 3,200m (11:06.27).

Autumn Craig added a fifth-place finish for RHS in the shot put with a throw of 11.16.

Whitaker credited the Lady Bearcats mixture of proven, college-signed leadership and younger athletes just getting started that helped provide a championship attitude.

“It’s a great mixture when you have your veterans who know how the program should be run,” Whitaker said. “They know the culture. When the younger kids come up and see that already-established culture, well the younger girls just fall in line.  There might be a little naivete involved with the younger ones. But they learn it. I know I’ve said it before, but they buy in.  It’s the culture. It’s the family.

“The funny thing is, if you ask a younger kid to run through a wall, they’d do it. Some of your older kids might be a little resistant, because they already know what it takes. They’ve been through the workouts. But those young girls are still learning but still a big part of this team.” 

And that buy-in factor comes for Whitaker’s Bearcats and Lady Bearcats alike, and gives him belief that hard work and strong execution can lead to outdoor titles for both teams.

“The program is progressing in the right way,” Whitaker said. “The kids are continuing to buy in. The girls really wanted to win one. They’ve seen the guys win two in a row. Now they want to do it. And more important, like this weekend, they want to do it together one more time. Outdoors season starts now.”


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