CALIFORNIA – As they raised the trophy over their heads, one word seemed appropriate for the members of the South Fayette High School girls cross country team.
The Lions won their third consecutive team title in the WPIAL Class AA Cross Country Championships at California University on a warm and breezy Thursday afternoon.
The Lions easily outdistanced Greensburg Salem, 51-111, and Knoch finished third with 131 points.
The three teams, along with the qualifiers in the other divisions, advanced to the state tournament in Hershey Nov. 2.
How does South Fayette coach Joe Winans feel the team will do there?
“We’re going to win,” he said quickly.
That confidence is honed from not only the gold-medal performance of the girls team but the silver medal won by the boys team.
“This might be the strongest team we’ve ever had,” Winans said of the girls squad. “One of the best things that happened to us was finishing fourth (at states) last year. As we got on the bus to come back, the girls said, ‘We can totally win that next year.’”
Sophomore Lauren Iagnemma led the Lions with a third-place finish with a time of 19:49 over the 3.1-mile course.
“It was a tough course. That hill on the second mile was hard,” said Iagnemma. “Once you get off that hill, you hit a stretch where you have to power through.
“We have a really good team. We’re all friends and we mesh together. Having a team that’s strong and really supports you is important. We all help pull each other through the races.”
Senior Hailey Poe (20:34) was fifth; freshman Angelina Gabriel (20:42) was seventh; senior Steffanie Kozak (21:26) was 17th; junior Emma Fleck (21:40) was 19th; sophomore Morgan Lukenich (21:57) finished 22nd; and sophomore Gabby Baiano (22:46) crossed 30th.
New Castle won the Class AA boys with 79 points and South Fayette was second with 94 points.
Senior Zach Conner (17:14) was fifth; junior Aaron Skerbetz (17:33) was 13th; freshman Jake Borgesi (17:36) finished 14; junior Drake Simpson (18:17) took 30th; senior Drew Whiteside (18:20) crosssed 32nd; freshman Roman Galioto (18:30) crossed 41st and freshman Zack Warchol (19:58) was 92nd.
“We were 10th last year, which was a huge disappointment,” Winans said. “We felt we could do a lot better. We expect a lot better so we reloaded this year. These guys exceeded all my expectations.”
Conner said the key on this course is the hill.
“I feel the trick is to kill it in on the hill,” he said. “I didn’t kill it but I stayed with the guys and at the top of the hill, you start picking off guys. The strategy is to work that hill.”
Ringgold junior Lucas Pajak was neck-and-neck with senior Anthony Litrenta of New Castle over the final 20 yards. They both crossed in 17:04 but Pajak was deemed third on a photo finish.
“The race started out slow and no one took the lead, so I went out,” Pajak said. “I took a risk in taking the lead. I probably shouldn’t have done that. But I’m still proud of what I cut.”
Peters Township senior Zack Marmol shaved one spot off last year, finishing sixth in the boys Class AAA race with a time of 16:25.
“It’s a super competitive class. I’m super happy,” he said. “I’m super happy to share this with my teammates. They’ve been with me all year, supporting me. I couldn’t have run a race like this without them.”
The Fort Cherry duo of junior Mara Whalen and senior Kayla Salvini each earned a berth in the Class A state tournament in their first season of running cross country. Whalen (21:47) finished 13th and Salvini (22:15) ended 15th.
“I’d like to get a PR at states,” Whalen said. “I’m going to do my best.”
“I run the 4-by-8 in track, so I figured I try it and see if I liked it,” Salvini said. “I thought it would keep me in shape for other sports.”