There is no place like home for the Ruston Bearcats.
The program opened up the 2022 season on the road at The Opener in Clinton, Mississippi. Their next race was in Denton, Texas. The Bearcats even made their way up north to Arkansas for meet in Hot Springs.
But it's on the trails in bucolic Lincoln Parish Park, in the shadows of the pines and tall oaks, where the Ruston team feels most at home, and they made the most of their only in-town appearance on Thursday by sweeping individual and team titles in the DI Region I Championships.
Ruston's Lily Garrett, the 2021 Gatorade Athlete of the Year and University of Tennessee commit, ran away from the competition and the pre-race nervousness in the girls' division.
"I didn't really know who was going to be my competition," Garrett said. "I knew Parker (Ruston teammate Parker Nations) was going to be right behind me. I didn't know who was going to go with her or who was going to go with me, so I was just trying to stay in my race."
That uncertainty led to an uneasy feeling going into her last race at Lincoln Parish Park.
"I was nervous before the race," Garrett said. "I just trying to trust my training and know that I got this."
Garrett finished with a 18:06, 24 seconds ahead of Nations.
Ruston scored 23 points, well-ahead of runner-up C.E. Byrd's 85 points. Alexandria Senior High was third with 103, and Lafayette was fourth with 114 points.
On the boys' side, Ruston senior Bryar Madden switched things up from his previous meets this season, and it paid off.
"In my other races, I've been going out too fast," Madden said. "I had to go slow at the beginning and save it for the end and it just worked out perfectly."
Madden sprinted to the finish line, crossing at 15:37 with Parkway junior Gabe Falting only two seconds behind.
While his senior season up to this point has not been as successful as he would like, Madden said Thursday's win doesn't hurt anything.
"It hasn't been the best (season)," Madden said. "I could have run a lot faster for other races, but I haven't. This helped a lot."
The team race on the boys side was much closer than it was in the girls division. When Parkway was announced as runner-up, a shout went up from Ruston supporters, celebrating the fact that their Bearcats were Region champs.
Ruston, who placed four runners in the top 10, scored 35 points, 13 points under runner-up Parkway. Barbe was third with 118 points, and West Monroe was fourth with 138 points.
Ruston head coach Dustin Cochran and his Bearcats will now turn their attention to the 2022 LHSAA State Cross Country Championships in Natchitoches, LA on Monday, November 14.