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PIAA meet is the goal for Seneca Valley boys, girls runners

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley High School senior Brett Foster finishes second and Seneca Valley sophomore Mike Kolor finishes third during the cross country tri meet against Knoch and Shaler.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley High School senior Mary Halyama is cheered on by her brother Jamie Halyama, 8 as she crosses the finish line during the cross country tri meet against Knoch and Shaler.

Not since the mid-2000s has the Seneca Valley cross country team made a serious push for the state championship race.

Last year, the cut was missed by a second. This season, there is a good core of veterans on the boys side, and a few key seniors on the girls team, which has the Raiders thinking it can end the drought.

“We are usually on the outside looking in,” Seneca Valley coach Steve Strelick said. “They only take three teams and we are usually somewhere around five, six or seven.”

Strelick is in his first year as the head coach and knows this team has the opportunity to get where it wants to go.

“We set long-term goals and look at the big picture,” he said. “I keep reminding the kids (to be patient) because they want to do more than I want them to right now. We have to take our time with this, but naturally they want to work their tails off. … I don't want them to peak too soon or get injured.”

The team is getting close, as evidenced by the good finish at the Red, White and Blue Invitational a week ago. The Seneca Valley boys placed seventh and the girls sixth, but the time difference between them and fourth was small, according to Strelick.

“We have to get to third to qualify (for states), but you have to reach fourth before you can get to third,” Strelick said.

Strelick was an assistant under Jim Nagle last year, so he is familiar with the runners. Strelick noted that the foundation for this season was laid by Nagle.

On the boys side, senior Brett Foster and his teammates got involved with cross country years ago. Unlike other sports in which short sprints are the focal point, cross country allows you to keep going and going.

“We feel like we found our sport and we all really love it,” Foster said. “Our goal this year is states that is a really big deal in cross country. Last year, we missed it by a second. And this year, most of us are seniors so we have a bond and want to do this together.”

Foster said he and the other runners are competitors but pride themselves on being a team.

“We have run hundreds of miles together, logged intervals and long distances,” Foster said. “Those things have taught me so much about not just running, but life. I transfer that hard work over to being a student as well as all aspects of life. It goes a long way.”

The girls are just as passionate, according to senior runner Becky Paine.

“I feel blessed because this is not a sport everyone can do,” Paine said. “Sometimes you can take for granted what you are able to do, so we support each other and push each other and it has made us so close as a team.”

Unlike the boys team that is senior heavy, the girls team has a few more underclassmen. Strelick said the seniors have done a good job of taking the younger runners under their wings and helping them along.

“We are like sisters,” Paine said. “We confide in each other. Not just about cross country, but in everyday life. We have a saying, you can go fast when you are alone, but when you are together, you can go far.”

Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reached him at 724-779-6979 or jeclark@tribweb.com.

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