NATCHITOCHES —You can’t call it a three-peat, but for the third straight year Benton has won a Class 4A state cross country championship.
In 2010 and 2011, the Benton girls won state titles. Tuesday at Northwestern State University, the boys broke through.
The Tigers won the first boys cross country state title in school history.
Benton scored 57 points, thanks in large part to a 3-4-5 finish by junior Drake Heinz, senior Brandon Lewis and sophomore Alex Whittington. Archbishop Shaw of New Orleans finished runner-up with 70.
The Tigers couldn’t have won without strong finishes from their fourth and fifth runners. Sophomores Stephen Singleton and Ryder Miller came through, finishing 19th and 26th, respectively.
The Lady Tigers couldn’t quite pull off a third straight title, scoring 93 points. St. Michael of Baton Rouge won with 61 and St. Thomas More of Lafayette was second with 78.
Heinz, who covered the 3-mile course in 16 minutes, 25.32 seconds, is the second state champion in his family. His sister Ashton helped the Benton girls win in 2010 and 2011.
“It’s crazy,” Heinz said. “My sister has won it the last two years so I have a lot to live up to. We trained hard all year. We went to this big camp in the summer and worked out butt off. It all paid off, finishing our top three in the top five. Our four and five came up at the end and just sewed it up for us.”
Lewis ran a 16:31.51 and Whittington ran a 16:33.53. Dylan Oliver of Northwood won the individual state title in 16:08.85.
“I feel amazing,” Whittington said. “Just one of those things that’s warming to the heart, knowing your team’s with you the whole time. Undefeated and come down here and win state — just a great feeling.”
The Benton boys also won all four of their regular season meets.
“Feeling really great. My senior year ended up how I wanted it to as a state champ,” Lewis said. “You couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Benton coach Frank Trammel said the race went about the way he planned. He figured his runners matched up well against those from other contending teams at each position.
It was no accident that three Tigers stayed at the front of the pack.
“Our coach wanted us to keep pretty tight up front, pushing the pace, and we executed it very well,” Lewis said.
Trammel said the Tigers were motivated after finishing fourth last year.
“They were a little disappointed last year,” he said. “We got beat by three good teams — Shaw, St. Michael and St. Thomas More. But those guys — summer we went to camp together and they all bought into this idea that we’re all going to continue to develop.”
Trammel said it was never about running fast during training.
“That will come in due time,” he said. “Under our system, it’s about championships because there’s so much that can be said about building and maintaining a program.”
As far as the girls are concerned, Trammel had three words — “we’ll be back.”
Sophomores Quinci Middlebrooks, Haley Dishman and Katie McKay led the Lady Tigers. Middlebrooks finished 10th in 20:18.01, Dishman 15th in 20:50.31 and McKay 16th in 20:55.05. Others in the scoring were senior Brooklyn Roberts (30th) and sophomore Kirsten Basco (31st).
“The girls were disappointed, but they’ve got the boys to lean on,” Trammel said. “They mirror each other. They’re not much different in what they do and what they represent in our community. They’re good citizens, good students and outstanding runners.”