Byrd girls, Parkway boys defend 1-5A cross country titles

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN:  Captain Shreve’s Evan Johnson finishes as the District 1-5A boys cross country individual champion, barely outpacing Benton’s Gabe Falting (rear). (Photo by JERRY BYRD, Journal Sports)

By JERRY BYRD, Journal Sports

Captain Shreve’s Evan Johnson ran a couple of 100-yard strides to warm up for the District 1-5A Cross Country Championships at South Bossier Park on Tuesday afternoon. On the final stride, he gave his father, who was making his way to the starting line, the “OK” sign.

Johnson, who has been “banged up” with a couple of leg injuries since running a personal record 15:43 to win the C.E. Byrd October Invitational on Oct. 8, was better than OK as he ran a new personal best 15:41.1 to barely beat his friend and summer training partner, Parkway’s Gabe Falting, who was less than a half second behind Johnson. 

“Obviously, it’s awful when you get injured, but you have to work with what you can do at the end of the season, I guess,” Johnson said. “I just dropped the mileage and did what I could. I was actually fresh today because I haven’t been running much; I guess that probably played a factor.”

Falting didn’t mind the company.

“Me and him linked up for the majority of the race, taking turns at different points of leading,” Falting said. “We were neck and neck the entire time, and at the end he just pulled ahead. It was really fun.”

In the girls’ race, Benton freshman Claire Allen won with a time of 19:16.7, more than 30 seconds faster than her teammate, senior Isabelle Russell, who was the runner-up with a season-best time of 19:48. 

“It feels really good,” Allen said. “Last year, I had no idea what to expect for my first high school cross country season. To see the outcome thus far, it’s really cool.”

While Allen is certainly happy to be the District 1-5A champion as a freshman, she is looking to get down in the mid-18:00s before the season is over. The next opportunity to reach her goal time will be the Division I Region I Meet in Ruston next Thursday, and then the LHSAA State Cross Country Meet in Natchitoches on Monday, Nov. 14.

C.E. Byrd made it a three-peat by winning its third straight District 1-5A title. It wasn’t that the Lady Jackets won, but how they won — with the absence of 2021 LHSAA Class 5A runner-up Jenna Key and fellow junior Hudson Roberts, who has missed the entire season due to an injury. 

Leading the Lady Jackets was junior Laila Wells, who finished fourth with a time of 20:07. Byrd won with 43 points, holding off Benton with 49.

“We did have some adversity, but I tell them all the time, it’s just like life – you have to adapt and move forward,” Byrd coach Juan Plaza said. “We have some committed kids who really put it out there today, and I knew, despite missing one or two, this team is deep enough to do some great things. Heck yeah, I’m proud of them winning today against some really good teams out here, like Benton and Parkway.”

Other Lady Jackets finishing in the top 10 included Spencer Frierson (No. 7, 20:37), Elizabeth Payne (No. 8, 21:14), and Mallory Swint (No. 9, 21:19).

Like the Lady Jackets, the Parkway boys were able to successfully defend their District 1-5A title from a year ago. They posted a convincing 28-52 margin over runner-up Benton.

“We were pretty excited today,” Parkway head coach Kent Falting said. “We had six or seven in the top 10. The goal was to come back and continue what we started last year. I’m glad nobody got hurt.

“We wore these pink shirts today because we wanted to represent those who are suffering from breast cancer, or know someone who is suffering from breast cancer,” he said. “We wanted to run for somebody else today, and I am very proud of what they did today in honor of those people.”

Other Parkway boys in the top 10 include Jesus Cordova (No. 5, 16:29), Alex Gomez (No. 6, 16:37), Noah Fox (No. 7, 16:39), Andrew Kent (No. 8, 16:44), and Charles Ernest (No. 10, 17:00).

Benton finished second in both the girls’ and boys’ divisions. Benton girls finishing in the top 10 included Allen, Russell, and Dominique Coore (No. 10, 21:40). Benton boys finishing in the top 10 included Brody Hutchison (No. 3, 16:21) and Dominic Helverson (No. 4, 16:25).

Other runners making the top 10 included Natchitoches Central’s Joe Duirden (No. 9, 16:55) in the boys’ division, and Airline’s Elena Heng (No. 3, 19:58), and Parkway’s Cheyenne Olson (No. 5, 20:13) and Ember Pierce (No. 6, 20:23) in the girls’ division. 

Contact Jerry at sbjjerrybyrd@gmail.com