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South Fayette cross country looking to erase sour taste

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | Bridgeville Area News
Evan Zombek is one of six seniors returning to the South Fayette boys cross country team that finished third in the WPIAL Class AA championship race.
Randy Jarosz | Bridgeville Area News
Ryan Lerda and the South Fayette cross country team will compete at the Red, White & Blue Class this weekend.

With about 30 teams competing in each classification at the WPIAL cross country championships, finishing in third and punching a ticket to Hershey for the PIAA race would be a massive accomplishment for many teams.

The South Fayette boys squad saw it as a disappointment.

“It left a sour taste in our mouths,” South Fayette coach Joe Winans said. “We went into the state meet but didn't bounce back like we had hoped. This year, our guys' sights are set on winning a WPIAL championship and taking a crack at the state title.”

What makes the Lions such a formidable team in 2013 is that they return every runner from the group that finished 10th at the PIAA race last season.

A group of six seniors – Evan and Stephen Zombek, Ryan Lerda, Frank Morelli, Joncarlo Patton and Patrick Brady – will lead the way. They will be joined by junior Devan Sandala.

“Jason Cillo is a junior who has been running well for us and can come out and contribute any given day,” Winans said.

While having returning runners is nothing out of the ordinary, the sheer number of returning athletes has their coach preparing for a special season.

“This is a unique situation,” Winans said. “There are years we return four of our top runners but never the entire group. In the seven years the program has been around, it has not happened.”

While the girls team isn't expected to have the team success the boys squad is, Winans said the talent is there for individual state qualifiers.

Junior Morgan Gimigliano and sophomore Sydney Lerda were the top two finishers at the WPIAL Class AA race for the squad last season – where it finished in eighth – and both have progressed since.

“Senior Katie Maloney had a tremendous summer,” Winans said. “I was impressed how well she was running and how strong she has looked.

“She has extreme motivation and has the physical capabilities and mental edge to perform well.”

The development of the program continues at a skyrocketing rate. The team came together in 2007 and quickly became one of the dominant forces in Class AA cross country in the WPIAL.

“One of the things I take pride in knowing is every year kids on the team have the opportunity of being part of something special,” Winans said. “As the program continues to grow, seeing the success the team achievements and watching the runners experience it, it gives me a great sense of pride.”

The Lions get their season underway at the Red, White & Blue Classic at Schenley Park Saturday. The event features teams from the WPIAL along with teams from the PIAA and West Virginia.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at nsmith@tribweb.com or 412-388-5813.

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