LaMar Gafford, Alexandria Town Talk Published 12:01 a.m. CT Dec. 15, 2019
Vernon Parish has been home to plenty of great long-distance cross country runners in recent years.
On the boys side, names such as Hornbeck’s John Jett and Leesville’s Andrew Barefield recently earned All-Cenla MVP honors, while Pitkin’s Jacey Merchant and Rosepine’s Cheyanne Vander made the area’s first team after strong showings at the LHSAA Cross Country meet in Natchitoches.
This year is no different, as the top runners hail from the parish and are just 20 minutes apart from each other on U.S. Highway 171.
For their accomplishments, Rosepine sophomore Sophia Jeffers and Leesville freshman Justin Cannata are your 2019 All-Cenla girls and boys Cross Country MVPs.
Sophia Soars from the Sunflower State
This season was a breakthrough year for Rosepine sophomore Sophia Jeffers on the cross country stage.
While she and many other runners struggled through the tough conditions during the 2018 LHSAA state cross country meet, Jeffers was one of the ones who thrived during this year’s ideal conditions — finishing fifth in the girls Class 2A race, while improving her time by over four minutes and posted a time of 20 minutes and 20.7 seconds.
“It was pretty fun,” Jeffers said. “It was nice weather this year, because last year was really, really cold.”
While Jeffers might be fairly new to Central Louisiana, her love of running is not.
Prior to moving to Rosepine, Jeffers lived in Kansas where she competed in Girls on the Run events in elementary school. From there, it helped her take an interest in cross country and long-distance track and field events.
“I always liked running because I have a lot of energy, so it’s always been fun,” Jeffers said.
One of the things that makes it fun are a great set of teammates.
The Lady Eagles have always been one of the better teams in the area in cross country and this year was no different with them taking eighth in the 2A team standings.
“We practice together and sometimes when we practice on the track, Coach (Anthony Cantrell) will tell us lap times as we run, which helps.”
With two years of her prep career to go, Jeffers hopes to not only break her personal record of 19:59, but to obtain a scholarship to college.
One and done and on the move for Cannata?
If this is the only time that Leesville runner Justin Cannata makes the All-Cenla cross country team, then he has made the most of it.
Keeping steady to a top-five pace at the LHSAA state cross country meet, Cannata finished third with a time of 16 minutes and 42.5 seconds.
“It was a very hard meet,” Cannata said. “It was really flat, and I run better on hills. There was a lot of competition.”
Competition makes athletes stronger and Cannata got plenty of that and encouragement when he was younger from his brother.
While Cannata’s brother turned to running after suffering an injury that prohibited him from contact sports, it also piqued the interest of Cannata as a fifth-grader.
“He took me out on one of his runs and he realized that I was really good,” Cannata said. “He made me sign up for a club team for sixth and seventh grade. I moved here and joined the junior high team.”
His first meet was a tough one, though.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Cannata said. “Everybody expects me to be as good as my brother and I didn’t know how I’d do.”
Slowly, but surely, the nerves subsided, and it led to a freshman season where he also won the John Miller Sr. meet — one of Cenla’s longest-running meets.
Cannata has some goals for his next three years in high school, such as besting his state meet time, but he might once again be on the move with his family to Florida or Kansas.
Whatever the plan is, he hopes to finish the three-mile race in less than 16 minutes.
NOTE: The Town Talk’s All-Cenla Cross Country Teams are selected according to the top marks in the LHSAA state meet.
- Sophia Jeffers, Rosepine, 20:20.7
- Quinn Brown, Menard, 20:31.2
- Jacey Merchant, Pitkin, 21:05.5
- Leah Thompson, Rosepine, 21:12.4
- Aly Jo Warren, Menard, 21:14.8
- Jordan Campbell, Buckeye, 21:28.4
- Rylie Bailus, Avoyelles Charter, 21:29.2
- Natalie Smith, Leesville, 21:42.8
- Linzi Lampert, Buckeye, 21:47.3
- Loren Robinson, ASH, 21:55.9
- Kaitlyn Brown, Tioga, 22:08.3
- Jensen Parker, St. Mary’s, 22:18.3
- Emma DeRosa, Menard, 22:21.5
- Jayda James, Hornbeck, 22:22.1
- Kate Deshotel, Avoyelles Charter, 22:24.8
- Meredith Seeling, Menard, 22:26.7
- Kannin Cole, Menard, 22:31.0
- Jordan Bareswill, Buckeye, 22:38.3
- Kayleigh Park, Hornbeck 22:42.1
- Gracie Carmouche, Avoyelles Charter, 22:43.4
- Aaniyah Hardwell, Natchitoches Central, 22:49.4
- Justin Cannata, Leesville, 16:42.5
- Cyrus Cox, Menard, 16:51.2
- Teddy Gowen, Many, 17:07.4
- Braden Scalisi, Menard, 17:13.7
- John Jett, Hornbeck 17:27.9
- Cooper Smith, Hornbeck, 17:33.1
- Spencer Caubarreaux, Grace Christian, 17:39.7
- Cade Fookes, Grace Christian, 17:45.6
- DeVante Jack, Jena, 17:47.7
- Eli Watkins, Menard, 17:56.5
- Blake Glorioso, Oak Hill, 17:58.4
- Jaylen Patterson, Tioga, 17:58.9
- Nicholas DeLapp, Leesville, 18:01.0
- Brayden Prichard, Anacoco, 18:01.4
- Mohamed Haddabeh, Avoyelles Charter, 18:03.5
- Andrew DeLapp, Leesville, 18:05.6
- Christian Condon, Hornbeck, 18:09.4
- Joseph Kennedy, Rosepine, 18:17.2
- Cody Bone, Anacoco, 18:24.5
- Nathan Snyder, Glenmora, 18:26.9
- Kyle Horning, Leesville, 18:33.2