Lovejoy girls XC

Lovejoy’s girls cross country team celebrates with the Class 5A state championship, won Friday in Round Rock at the UIL state meet.

 

After finishing atop the standings at the district and regional meets, the Lovejoy girls cross country team capped their most prolific year as a Class 5A program in championship fashion on Friday in Round Rock.

Running at Old Settler’s Park, the Lady Leopards rode a commanding effort by their top four runners to outlast the field for the program’s first state title since 2011.

“It was awesome. The girls have had a really strong season and we ended up going undefeated in Class 5A,” said Carly Littlefield, Lovejoy girls head coach. “I knew we were a great team but it’s just a matter of controlling the emotions and nerves on race day and my top four were able to do that. And then we had a senior who stepped up to have a really good race to clinch that fifth spot to win it.”

The Lady Leopards placed their top four runners within the 5K race’s top 14, led by a fifth-place run from junior Amy Morefield, a three-time state qualifier who ran a 17:50.0 on Friday — shaving 22 seconds off her time run as a sophomore at state in 2020.

“[Morefield] ran so well as a freshman and didn’t put pressure on herself. I think she was a little overexcited and anxious as a sophomore and struggled with that,” Littlefield said. “She really wanted to podium and I think she let those nerves get to her. We really prepared for that and had lots of one-on-one conversations and talked about not putting so much pressure on herself and controlling what she could control. That’s what she did this year.”

Sophomore Kailey Littlefield wasn’t far behind with a seventh-place run of 18:08.8, which put Lovejoy’s top two runners right in coach Littlefield’s pre-race projection of finishing in the top 10. The bar for the Lady Leopards’ Nos. 3 and 4 runners, sophomores Sara Morefield and Peyton Benson, was to crack the top 20. Both finished right behind each other with Sara Morefield in 12th (18:30.0) and Benson in 13th (18:36.2).

“They started in the top 20 and just worked their way up all throughout the race. They really were the ones who came up big,” coach Littlefield said.

Lovejoy’s fifth finish came from senior Katie Armstrong in 57th place at 19:28.3. She was 39th among team finishers in the 5A race, which wound up being enough to square the Lady Leopards at 65 points overall — just six better than second-place Boerne Champion.

“With Peyton and Sara doing what they did, and our five (Armstrong) managing to hold on, I won’t lie — it got a little nervous,” coach Littlefield said. “We won by six points and it was close. I was telling our fifth girl that it would come down to her. She was able to hold her spot and even move up a little.”

Coach Littlefield admitted there was some uncertainty as to whether her team had done enough to edge Champion in the team standings. She wasn’t alone, even after her runners learned of the final scores.

“Amy and Katie didn’t believe me when I told them they won,” coach Littlefield said. “Then there were hugs and tears and it was all just so surreal. It was very hard for the girls to believe that they had done it. It was sheer happiness once it all sunk in.”

The championship win doubled as the Lady Leopards’ first state title since 2011, the first domino to fall in a productive state meet for Lovejoy’s cross country program. Moments after the girls cleared the course at Old Settler’s Park, the boys team strung together a third-place finish to earn their spot on the podium.

Senior Tate Barr led the charge for the Lovejoy boys with a 16th-place run of 15:46.4, followed by senior Rohan Sharma in 25th place at 16:03.0.

Rounding out the Leopards' top five finishers were freshman William Carlson (16:21.7, 38th), sophomore Nick Yarad (16:35.8, 58th) and senior Riley McGowan (16:49.9, 76th).

“It was awesome. That was our goal. We wanted to get the girls in first and the boys on the podium. They were all so excited to share that moment together,” coach Littlefield said.

It fell right in line with boys head coach Logan Kelly’s expectations coming off his team’s regional championship win on Oct. 26. He anticipated Grapevine and Denton being the two teams to beat in 5A and that held true with the Mustangs (53) and Broncos (104) respectively finishing first and second on Friday.

Kelly expected the Leopards, ranked No. 4 in 5A per the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas to contend for the third overall spot. Lovejoy totaled 126 points to finish 40 ahead of fourth-place Frisco Wakeland in its first podium finish since 2018.

The wait was a bit longer for the Lady Leopards, who were making their third straight appearance as a team at state. The Lovejoy girls took sixth in 2019 and fifth in 2020 before scaling the mountaintop for the first time in a decade on Friday.

“It really started two or three years ago with a couple girls who have graduated but really bought into the work ethic and the training I was asking them to do,” coach Littlefield said. “We really started training much harder a few years ago. Girls like Zoe Bessa and Carson Hockersmith really paved the way for my seniors now, who were freshmen and sophomores back then. They bought into that work ethic and have done a great job of leading. 

“Those seniors and the ones who came before really helped change the mindset of the program.”

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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