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South Fayette cross country ready to fulfill its destiny

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | for the Brideville Area News
Stephen Zombek and the South Fayette boys cross country team have their eyes set on capturing a WPIAL title.
Randy Jarosz | for the Bridgeville Area News
Patrick Brady is one of the returning seven runners who got PIAA experience in 2012.

For the South Fayette boys cross country team, 2013 might be a season of destiny.

The Lions return every runner from a 2012 squad that finished third at the WPIAL Class AA championship race and 10th at the PIAA event.

“It is like the stars aligned perfectly,” Evan Zombek said. “Everyone came back. You couldn't ask for anything more.”

The returning runners include seniors Frank Morelli, Joncarlo Patton, Ryan Lerda, Patrick Brady and Evan and Stephen Zombek as well as junior Devan Sandala.

The runners said they were pleased with reaching the PIAA championship race last season but it fell short of meeting their expectations.

“We felt it was pretty disappointing,” Morelli said. “To have the season we had, finishing in third is nothing like we thought we would do. It humbles you. It has fueled us to get better.”

It is this focus that has coach Joe Winans excited. Most years a team will need to get younger players on track. But this season's team has a clear focus.

“What is real great about this group is that they all understand not only how they work and run but how their teammates work and run,” Winans said. “They are very cohesive.

“They know by attacking a race or working in a certain way will draw a little more out of their teammates.”

The team has looked strong in two invites so far this season. The Lions finished as the top Class AA program and fifth overall at the Red, White and Blue Invitational and second overall at the Slippery Rock Invite behind only Mt. Lebanon.

“Those are real confidence boosters,” Winans said. “The only teams ahead of us were Mt. Lebanon, Fox Chapel and North Allegheny. Those are some of the premier programs in western Pennsylvania.”

The Red, White and Blue Invitational gave South Fayette some bragging rights as it finished ahead of Quaker Valley.

The Quakers have won the WPIAL Class AA title six years in a row. The Lions finished second to Quaker Valley at the WPIAL race in 2010.

“I started high school cross country last year because I hurt my ankle in middle school,” Brady said. “But with just last year I can see a rivalry has developed between us and Quaker Valley. After one year, I want to go out and knock them off.”

The Lions will have a busy month leading up to the WPIAL championship race on Oct. 24 as they will run at the Central Catholic Invite, the Mingo Classic and the TSTCA Invitational at Coopers Lake – the same location as the championship race.

While the team wants to get some strong finishes, South Fayette is using the events as stepping stones to its ultimate goals.

“The invites will be good practice for WPIALs and states,” Evan Zombek said. “We want to go in and win but we need to stay focused on the big races. If you worry about the trophies you have won, you'll never get one in the future.”

The Lions will run in the Central Catholic Invitational in Schenley Park on Saturday. Start time is scheduled for 9 a.m.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or 412-388-5813.

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