Vandebilt Catholic head coach David Malone is accustomed to a runner named Kelso and Chesnut helping his Terriers win a LHSAA Division II State Cross Country Championship. But this year, it wasn't Ella Chesnut, who graduated last May and is now competing for LSU. It was Chesnut's eighth grade sister, Charlotte Chesnut, who helped the Terriers win their fourth straight title as they captured the LHSAA Girl's Division II trophy in "incredible" fashion.
Both Vandebilt Catholic and Academy of Sacred Heart (NO) tied by scoring the 45 points. The tie break came down to each team's sixth runner. Chesnut came in at No. 19 with a time of 20:59, five seconds ahead of Academy of Sacred Heart's No. 6 runner.
"It's one of the most amazing moments I have ever seen in cross country," Malone said. "I've been a head coach for 19 years, and I've never been a part of anything like this. Regular meets...yeah, but not at the state meet-a championship against a great time like Academy of Sacred Heart. What an incredible morning and incredible day here in Natchitoches."
Chesnut was the unlikeliest of heroes on the Vandebilt Catholic team.
"She came to us as an eighth grade volleyball player- not real excited about running cross country," Malone said. "She was running just to run. Little did she know she turned out to be one of our best runners and save us at the state meet . She had no clue. She just ran her race. She didn't find out until a few seconds ago that she won the race for us."
The leader for the Terriers was Brynn Kelso, who defended her LHSAA Class 4A state championship from a year ago. Kelso ran a 18:34.10 and held off Leesville junior Lina Mills-Zacapa, who finished six seconds behind Kelso.
"That definitely made it extra special to defend my title," Kelso said. "With this being my senior year, I've really been putting in a lot of work throughout the summer and this season, so seeing it all come together at a race that matters really means a lot."
Kelso's smile when she finished the race wasn't as big as the one when her teammate-fellow senior Logan Hamilton came across the line in fifth place with a 19:30. It was the fourth consecutive year Hamilton finished in the top 10, which equates to earning All-State honors.
"It's so rewarding," Kelso said of seeing her teammates succeed. "We've consecutively won four. It means the world to me to see them win and every year it's just more exciting for the team than the individual."
With Kelso and Hamilton gone, Malone will turn to tenth grader Olivia Hatch (No. 8, 19:53), eighth grader Kate Magee (No. 16, 20:50), and junior Blair Bourg (No. 17, 20:50) to keep the Lady Terrier's state championship streak in tact in 2023.
Kelso wasn't the only Terrier leaving Natchitoches with a state championship. Senior Avery Morgan, who decided to go out for cross country his senior year, shocked everyone-including himself-by winning the Division II Boys' title with a 16:09.80 giving Vandebilt Catholic a sweep of the D-II individual titles.
"I didn't think this ever would happen," Morgan said after receiving his state championship gold medal. "At the start, I was like I'll try to be in the top five. Then as the season went on and my times I drop I realized that I would have to lead the team."
Morgan was No. 5 in the rankings coming into Monday's state championship, but he is No. 1 after defeating the entire Division II field at NSU.
Teurlings Catholic, led by junior Noah Bernard's 16:19, won the Division II Boys' state championship. Other scoring members of the Rebel state championship team includ Jude Greenman (No. 9, 16:35), Archie James (No. 11, 16:50), Jude Guidry (No. 12, 16:54), and Matthew Rushing (No. 13, 17:00).