Lady Patriots Win 5th Straight

Brooklyn Roye, a 6th-grader, was on the junior high cross country team up until a few weeks ago when MRA head coach Pat Lovitt decided to move her up to the varsity team.

Smart move.

With MRA clinging to a precarious late one point lead over Jackson Prep in Monday’s MAIS Class 5A Cross Country State Championship at Choctaw Trails in Clinton, the Lady Patriots desperately needed someone else to come in with a good enough finish to lock up a fifth straight championship.

Roye surprisingly ended up being that girl. She passed not one, not two, but three girls ahead of her on the brutal uphill finishing stretch on the 3.1 mile trek to finish ninth. Her heroics, coupled with those of fellow 6th-grader Riz McBride who finished 12th, helped MRA stave off Jackson Prep by a final margin of five points. McBride also started the season on the junior high team.

“I started working hard with Riz after those first couple of meets because I could see then she may be able to help us on the varsity team,” Lovitt said. “I thought the same thing with Brooklyn, but basically it was a wait-and-see type of thing. I wanted to see how she progressed. Well, as you can see, she progressed quite nicely.”

Nicely enough to help MRA keep its run of dominance going in the MAIS’ top division. The Lady Patriots added yet another championship trophy, which should be stamped “D” for dynasty, and are in line to collect yet another championship ring. Perhaps the ring guy, Jim Peoples from Herff Jones, should just set up shop on campus. It would no doubt save him a little gas money.

Sloane Vinson, a senior who has signed with Southern Miss, led the way with a third-place finish (20:49.94) on what was an unusually warm late October day. She will finish her high school career with five, count ‘em five, championship rings in cross country. That’s right, one for each finger. Sophomore Abi Alden Benton (20:53.36), came in fourth just a few seconds behind Vinson. And 8th-grader Presley Hughes came in 6th-place with a time of 21:26.42, giving MRA four of the top nine and five of the top 12 finishers. For good measure, 8th-grader Mae Ellen Mallett came in 13th (22:12), finishing nearly side-by-side with her teammate McBride.

MRA and Prep were tied after the top two runners were done, MRA was ahead by one with three runners in, and ahead by two with four runners in. It was that close.

“I really wanted to finish well with it being my senior year and all,” Vinson said. “I’m so happy we were able to pull it out. We were able to kind of duck-tape people together, and found some younger talent, and got it done. I think we surprised a lot of people.”

Count Lovitt among that number. After all, three of his top runners from last year’s team graduated in Laurel Fulcher, Lydia Snopek and Everett Heard, and he’s lost four college level runners over the course of the last two years. Last year’s team even went as far as having posters made that read Last Dance, thinking the incredible run would end with a four-peat. Not so much. Soiree anyone?

“I wasn’t shocked that we won it, but to be honest I really didn’t expect to,” Lovitt said. “I knew we had an opportunity to if we ran well and had some things go our way. We’ve lost a lot the past two years, and you certainly don’t foresee two 6th-graders coming in and finishing in your top five. When you look at, out of our top six, we had two sixth-graders and two eighth-graders and a sophomore.”

Vinson, Benton, Hughes, and Roye all made the All-State team by virtue of finishing in the Top 10.

“We were the underdogs this year, so that was a different feeling,” said Benton, who has been a part of three straight championship teams. “We had a really young team this year, so I don’t think anybody was expecting us to win it again. I think most people didn’t give us a chance. But we had a lot of people step up, and we did. Coach Pat was excited, he was stoked. And all the girls were, too. It’s pretty incredible to win five in a row. You don’t see many teams do that these days.”

Vinson and Benton were exhausted at the conclusion of the race. Vinson was able to see Roye make her late push, Benton didn’t.

“She had a major kick,” Vinson said. “We were all cheering her on, and we all went crazy when she did it.”

Vinson certainly saved her best for last, too, despite not being up to par at times during the regular season.

“She had some iron issues throughout the middle of the year that she had to deal with, but she knew it was her last race, she was feeling better, and she ran a very smart, intelligent race,” Lovitt said. “She didn’t go out too quick, too early. She let the race come to her and she did very well.”

Benton turned in her second strong performance in as many years at the State meet. She finished third a year ago as a freshman.

“Two years in a row where she’s come in as our second girl,” Lovitt said. “She’s been consistent all year. She’s been by far the steadiest runner all year.”

Hughes also has two Top 10 finishes in as many years. She placed 10th a year ago as a seventh-grader.

“She ran the race of her year,” Lovitt said. “She was huge. That was by far her best time of the year.”

Lovitt said recent trips for races at Pontotoc and Simpson helped with team chemistry. He also gave a shout out to his assistant coach, daughter Kayla, for her guidance with the girls throughout the season. “Kayla bonded so well with the girls and pushed them each day in practice. Her energy and enthusiasm really clicked with the girls. She was very important to their success. She is a natural at this.”

“The older girls really helped bring along the younger girls,” Lovitt continued. “They really made them feel like part of the team, made them feel comfortable. Those trips we took the past couple of weeks really helped bring everybody together.”

Lovitt also stated outside sources helped his squad. “I really want to thank MS Milesplit for their work this season, some of their articles and insight were a great source of inspiration for our teams.”

The MRA boys finished in third place behind PCS and Jackson Prep. Sophomore Jonas Cox was the Patriots’ top finisher, placing seventh.