A month ago, the chances didn't look very good for the St. Patrick girls cross country team to win another state championship after the Fighting Irish were beaten by Choctaw Central.
“They beat us bad,” said St. Patrick coach Tim McDaniel. “I told them that we would have to change the culture of our team to be more aggressive.”
The change paid off Saturday when St. Patrick turned the tables on Choctaw Central on the same Choctaw Trails course in the race that matters the most – the MHSAA 3A state meet. With four runners in the top 10, St. Patrick edged Choctaw 41-49 for the eighth state title in the 10 years since the school opened.
“It was a total team effort from the seventh runner to the first runner,” McDaniel said. “We knew it was going to be a tough battle because Choctaw Central is an excellent team.”
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St. Patrick was led by Isabel Leatherman, who finished second behind Lauren Green of Kossuth. The two eighth graders batted throughout the race before Green pulled away near the end to win by 2.6 seconds.
Leatherman wasn't disappointed in having to settle for the silver medal. “I gave it my all. That's all I wanted to do,” she said.
She was followed across the finish line by teammates Jordan Pete in seventh place, Gabriela Patino eighth, Anna Clare Colson 10th and Amelie Million 18th
Leatherman was among threeCoast runners to finish second on the day in 5A, 3A and 1A boys and girls competition. Sophomore Cole Benoit of Pearl River Central took silver in 5A boys and eighth-grader Ashling Osness of Long Beach was second in 5A girls behind Morgan Campbell of Saltillo.
Benoit lost the closest race of the day – one of the closest ever in the state meet – finishing three-tenth of a second behind Adrian Lockwood of Brookhaven with a time of 16:48.9.
“He was third and I was fourth most of the race. We were pushing each other the whole way,” Benoit said. “At the end, it was just him and me.”
They ran side by side up the final hill to the finish line, with Lockwood winning by half a stride.
“I'm not going to lie, it was disappointing,” Benoit said. “But I'm proud. This is the fastest race I have ever run.”
The future looks bright for the Long Beach girls after a fourth place finish with a very young team.
“It's the best our program has ever done,” said Long Beach coach Olan Welch. “I'm satisfied with our performance, especially with Ash getting the silver medal and we had another girl (seventh-grader Brooklyn Biancamano) who was fourth overall.
“I only have two freshmen on the team. The rest of them are seventh and eighth graders. I guess I'm not gong to retire. I'm going to stick around for awhile.”
Other area teams in girls 5A were Pearl River Central seventh, Pascagoula 10th, West Harrison 11th, Gautier 12th and Picayune 13th. In 5A boys, West Harrison was fourth, Long Beach fifth, Pascagoula ninth, Pearl River Central 10th, Gautier 15th, and Picayune 17th
In 3A boys, St. Patrick was eighth, led by Cade Meyers with a fourth place finish.
Other team winners were Oxford boys in 5A, Saltillo girls in 5A, St. Andrew's boys in 3A and Tupelo Christian boys and girls in 1A.
Competition in 6A, 4A and 2A will be held Monday.