Most important races of high school XC season start Tuesday

PANTHERS PACESETTER:  Gabriel Falting is Parkway’s best runner and is a strong contender for the District 1-5A boys title at Tuesday’s district meet.

By JERRY BYRD, Journal Sports

It’s the “championship season” in Louisiana high school cross country, and it all begins with the District 1-5A Championships at South Bossier Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Training sessions will begin to ramp up with more speed work as teams look to put the finishing touches on their preparations before the LHSAA State Cross Country Championships at Northwestern State in Natchitoches on Monday, Nov. 14.

Going into Tuesday’s District 1-5A race, C.E. Byrd will look to extend its winning streak on the girls’ side. The Lady Jackets, led by 2021 LHSAA Class 5A state runner up Jenna Key, have won back-to-back District 1-5A titles.

On the boys’ side, Parkway hopes to begin a streak of its own as the Panthers won last year’s title, and this fall have proven to be not only one of the best teams in the area, but the entire state.

Byrd’s Juan Plaza has not had the luxury this season of having his team at full strength. Key missed the first few weeks of the season with a nagging injury, and the Byrd girls have missed fellow junior Hudson Roberts, who has spent most of her junior cross country season on crutches with a stress fracture.

Still, the Lady Jackets have enough depth to continue the streak.

“Winning another district team title is certainly a goal for our athletes, especially in a competitive district like 1-5A,” Plaza said. “But in the end, it’s just a prep meet for the state meet where we have bigger goals.”

If anyone is able to knock off the Lady Jackets, look for Benton to answer the call. The Lady Tigers have one of the best freshmen in the state in Clair Allen, and also have experienced runners – and leadership — from senior Isabelle Russell. 

Parkway’s Cheyenne Olson has been a regular in the Top 5 during her first two years of high school. Look for Olson to lead the Lady Panthers. 

Parkway junior Gabriel Falting and Captain Shreve senior Evan Johnson have been friends since they began running competitively in middle school. This summer, Johnson even trained with the Parkway team to gear up for the season. 

Falting and Johnson will battle it out for the District 1-5A individual title. Falting has a best time of 15:43. Johnson also has a best time of 15:43. 

But Falting isn’t the only weapon the Panthers have. Sophomore Andrew Kent (16:10), freshmen Ben Rulifson (16:25) and Charles Ernest (16:43) and sophomore Jesus Cordova (16:35) have all impressed this season. 

“Our boys are very excited for the district meet,” Parkway head coach Kent Falting said. “Winning it last year after not winning for four years was a huge relief. Now, they’re hungry for more. There are some great runners in our district but we hope to come out on top and injury-free so we can continue to chase our goal of being top five in this year’s state meet.”

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