If Coach Cullen Doody and his Jesuit (New Orleans, LA) boys go on to unprecedented state and post-season cross-country success this fall and beyond, they’ll likely remember last weekend at Nike XC Town Twilight, Presented by The Garrett Companies, as a breakthrough and landmark junction in their journey.
“I’ve got to tell you, that was the most fun I’ve ever had at a cross country meet in my life. The atmosphere was incredible,” said Doody. “I knew if we could go up there and beat Carmel, without (top runner) Michael (Vocke), that it would be extremely impressive. And we did it.”
What’s also extremely impressive is how Doody has taken Jesuit from a being team with a trio of 5th-place finishes at the Louisiana state meet to one that’s arrived as national powerhouse -- in three years.
Doody took over the program in 2020, having been a decent runner himself at the school (Class of ‘08). He knew there were talented student-athletes at Jesuit and he also knew what could happen with a bit of a culture change, raised expectations and a new training approach -- having himself improved dramatically while running collegiately at LSU.
“We started with some talented kids, but I knew they could get a lot faster,” says Doody. “So we started by changing the way they even thought about distance running, just some rudimentary stuff. Then we started getting the kids to buy in to the idea they could get better.”
One turning point that first fall came when they beat 3-time defending state champ Catholic-Baton Rouge in a big invite. “They were down their top guy, but it was still a big deal for us,” Doody recalls. “Every guy on our team broke 16:00 for 3 miles and they just couldn’t believe it.
“We eventually got 2nd to them at state, but we were a really good team. That was the buy-in. Then that next spring (2021) in track we had some really good performances and a lot of excitement started building around the program.”
In 2021-22, Jesuit won the 5A state XC crown with 22 points, then in track had five athletes run between 9:06-9:26 for 3,200 with no seniors. With everyone back this fall, the Blue Jays have kept climbing the ranks.
Jesuit’s path to XC Town was not a direct one, however. They originally planned to compete at Great American. Then Hurricane Ian came along.
“Being from New Orleans, we’re kind of experts on hurricanes,” says Doody. “I started looking at the long range path on that storm, looking at where it was going after Florida. I had a pretty good feeling Great American was going to get cancelled. On Tuesday I woke up and thought we’ve got to make a move right now.”
Jesuit changed their travel plans to come to XC Town, though they were only able to bring 7 runners compared to the original 14 they’d hoped for. Meanwhile top runner Vocke had been dealing with illness and ‘21 #3 man (and 9:11 3200 runner) Lucas Sampedro was still coming back from injury.
However, sophomore rising star Brady Mullen ran a fantastic PR 15:04 in 6th, senior Jack DesRoches followed at 15:11 in 12th, #3 man Patrick O’Dowd PR’d at 15:25 in 18th and Robert Bussion was right behind in 15:26/21st.
“Then our 5th guy, Leland Crawford, gutted it out,” Doody says. “He didn’t have his best day, but he came through in the end.” Crawford won the meet’s 5th Man Award and Jesuit scored 96 (15:22 average) to prevail over Carmel’s 107 (15:20 average).
While Doody and his squad are excited about what lies ahead with the upcoming championship season, he’s also looking back on how they got here.
“We give a lot of credit to Coach Rudy Horvath, who brought me here and had a bunch of talented guys already out,” he says. “I think of guys like Jack, Patrick and Robert, who were sophomores back in 2020; back then, they were not superstars but they bought in and wanted to be good.
“I expected this, that we had a chance to have a really good team. I knew if I could get these kids to train properly, that we had the right formula for great running school here at Jesuit (except for climate). It’s just a matter of building up the training and the expectations. They wanted a road map to success and I promised it to them.”