St. Joseph's Academy Looks To Continue Success in 2021

* St. Joseph's Academy athletes receiving awards at the Episcopal Round Table Run.

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We caught up with long-time St. Joseph's Academy head coach Mark LaHaye, to take about his program's goals for the 2021 cross county season. We've already got to see SJA compete a few times this season but this team is looking to not only make an impact on a state level but also on a national level. See what coach LaHaye had to say about their big goals for the 2021 season and more in the Q&A below. 

The Quick Facts:

Finish At State in 2020:
1st - Class 5A

Returning From State In 2020: 4 of top 5 and 5 of top 7

Elise Jones - 4th at state 
Emma Hendry - 9th
Ava Lemoine - 13th
Grace Rennhoff - 22nd
Maddie Gardiner - 27th

Recent Top Team Finishes:

September 4th - Mobile Cross Country Challenge of Champions 2021 - 1st scoring 25 points
September 11th - Episcopal Round Table Run - 1st scoring 23 points

* Michelle Daigle with Coach LaHaye after the Episcopal Round Table Run.

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Q&A With Coach Mark LaHaye

How long have you coached (overall/at your school)?

2021 will be my 9th season coaching XC at SJA. (2022 will be my 11th season coaching track).

What does your team's meet schedule look like this year?

We typically compete in (10) Meets, which includes our Baton Rouge Metro Championship, our 2-5A Regional Qualifier, plus the State Meet. Last season, even with Covid, we were able to compete in (12)

Meets as we were able to split the team and compete in different Meets on the same weekend on two occasions. We hope to do that at least once this season. What will be some of your bigger races?

The Lake Hamilton Invitational in Hot Springs, AR is one that we're really looking forward to. It's a road trip to someplace new with new competition. It'll be a big challenge for us. A couple of my north LA coaching buddies told me about that one. Plus, NXS in The Woodlands after our State Meet is the other really big one on our calendar.

What was one important moment over the summer with your team and why?

We did have this one really awesome summer camp moment with our seniors. We were doing a team discussion we call "5-Things". I gave each grade a topic to present on "5-Things".

They had to come up with five recommendations, the "5-Things" that: a) we are doing now (that are good); b) that we should stop doing; c) that we should add; and, d) that we can/should/must do better. I gave the seniors that last one, and they nailed it. Their presentation was spot-on. It was inspirational and it pumped up the entire team. Everyone was so hyped up when they were done that I doubt anyone fell asleep before midnight.

What's the focus on training over the summer for the varsity squad?

Primarily re-acclimatization to the LA heat and humidity, as well as moving from running hard on the track to running hard on grass. The training component just is what it is. Our focus is a healthy balance of a steady increase in volume over intensity.

Which athletes do you see as a probable five/top seven this season?

It's still too early for me to narrow it down. I'm letting the girls battle it out over these next few weeks to see who really wants it. We really have a lot of depth this season. All of our returning seniors have top-7 potential.

Maddie Gardiner is our top returning runner and has run top-7 since her freshman year and placed 3rd at State her sophomore year. She's coming off of a solid indoor/outdoor track season and is raring to go. Ava Lemoine, Elise Jones, and Lilly Leonard all are returning from minor injuries/illnesses and all have State Meet experience.

Plus Amelia Cochran and Alexis Napoli have really turned it up a notch this past summer and are pressing for top-7. That makes for some really deep experience. After our senior group, junior Emma Claire Hendry is solidly in our top-5. She consistently finishes every practice and every race in our top-5. Then we have a group of sophomores with Grace Rennhoff, Hannah Vaughan, and Stella Vincent making a hard run for a top-7 spot.

You have now won five straight state titles, what does it take to have that kind of success year after year?

Belief. Commitment. Discipline. Faith. Passion. Sacrifice. Trust. These are some of our "Words" that define us. Each season I pick a new "Word" that defines the identity of the team. Last season our Word was "Perseverance", which was so perfect for having to deal with a year of Covid. This season our Word is "Promise". As you know, Promise has two meanings depending on how you use it. I really think this Word perfectly defines this team.

* Coach Mark LaHaye talks about St Joseph's win at the Episcopal Round Table Run.
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What are some of the challenges to getting the next group of girls ready to step up and be leaders on the team?

Actually, over the past 4-years, I can't say it's really been a "challenge". Maybe somewhat early on, but not these past few years as our team culture has really taken root. I may sometimes have doubts that this group or that group of juniors is not yet ready to step up and lead the team.

But each and every year the new group of rising seniors have quickly grown up and embraced their role as leaders of the team and have exceeded my expectations. They understand that their biggest role is that of a mentor to our incoming freshmen and that the future success of this team is their true legacy.

Which athletes have taken a bigger role in terms of veteran leadership?

As I mentioned previously, all (7) of our seniors have really stepped up in leadership roles this season. This will be their 4th year on the team, and from day-1 of summer training, throughout the summer, and then at camp, they've really taken the reigns of this team and are pushing their teammates to a higher standard and holding them accountable.

How have they shown it/what will you expect from them in 2021?

They've shown it by leading by example. By being good role models to our underclassmen in everything they do. By being good students in the classroom. By making good choices away from school. And by showing how much they love their team. I'm really blessed having a group of overachievers. I really don't need to tell them what to do. I have confidence that could lead their team in an entire workout from start to finish in my absence. And do it with purpose and intensity. My expectation is the same for them as they have for me. We give each other our all every day.

Who are some new faces who will make an impact in 2021? (i.e. freshmen, transfers, runners who've improved)

Our most improved seniors that are making a move are Amelia Cochran and Alexis Napoli. Amelia has already made a case for running top-7 and Alexis is just outside of that group. Among our sophomores, Grace Rennhoff and Hannah Vaughan have already run 3M PR race times and are pretty solid to be in our top-7. Plus Stella Vincent is working hard to move back up into the mix where she was before her injury last season. Our biggest and newest face is freshman Michelle Daigle. She's staking a claim to be our #1 runner and has put Maddie Gardiner on notice that she's going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Four to six weeks before the state championships, what's a staple workout that's readying this team for a potential postseason run?

I guess our "staple" workout is our quarter-mile repeats at VO2Max. We typically do these on Wednesdays, and I'll vary the location on the course over the last 8-weeks of the season.

What will success look like in 2021 for this team?

Success for us is winning all of our major championships, that being Metro, Regionals, and State, and a top-5 finish at NXS. Now, if you ask my seniors, success is defined as being an NXN regional qualifier.

What's the biggest challenge facing this team this fall?

Our biggest challenge will be as I just mentioned, that being meeting our goal for NXS/NXN. Running NXS within 4-days of our State Meet is always a challenge for us.

How has the last year and a half affected the team with any covid/mask/social distancing restrictions you may have faced?

The Covid protocols and restrictions were not that difficult. We understood the rules and just followed them. The difficult part was when a team member got infected, or exposed, and had to quarantine away from the team. That 15-minute exposure rule was probably the most difficult to deal with. We had more of those than we needed.

Is there a quote or a saying, or a purpose your team lives by? What is it and why?

Our team mantra is a Vince Lombardi quote which says: "Winning means you are willing to go longer, work harder, and do more than anyone else." That really defines who we are.

What are the three big goals for this team in 2021?

1. Repeat as State Champs.

2. Place 5 runners in the top-10 and all 7 in the top-15.

3. Biggest goal of all is making it to NXN.