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Trip to PIAA meet like going to Disney World for Seneca Valley girls

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 7:22 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley High School girls cross country runners during a cross country tri meet against Knoch and Shaler during the regular season.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley girls cross country runners gather before a cross country tri meet earlier this season against Knoch and Shaler. Seneca Valley finished fourth in the PIAA Class AAA championship meet.

Cross country is based largely on the individual effort of a runner versus the elements and the course in front of them.

At Seneca Valley, the cross country team took a different approach to this season and enjoyed success as a result.

The Seneca Valley girls placed fourth in the state with a score of 152, and that effort was due to how the runners worked together.

Competing in the Class AAA championships, sophomore Mariah Mack ran a 19:18, taking 15th place and earning a medal. Freshmen Rachel Hensler (19:37; 23rd) and Isabelle Diase (19:49 27th), seniors Angela Mignanelli (20:18, 39th) and Becky Paine (20:29; 48th), and sophomores Emma Sledge (20:52, 65th) and Lauren Sauer (21:43, 97th) combined for the overall final tally for the Raiders.

While Mack led the way in the team scoring, Sauer was the only runner from Seneca Valley who had experienced the PIAA course in Hershey, something coach Steve Strelick will not have to deal with if the current core maintains its trajectory.

Aside from Paine and Mignanelli, all of the state qualifiers will return and be much more experienced in big races.

“Some teams go out to states so focused and tense, they really don't experience it,” Strelick said. “Some go out just to have a good time. Our kids were comical in the sense that they had the perfect balance of fun and focus. The only way I can describe it is seeing a kid experience Disney World for the first time.”

With preparation being so important, and the approach to a race almost as big as the race itself, Strelick said the PIAA event provides ample motivation for the runners.

“In states, that is the end of the season, so they run with all they have,” he said.

“Typically, we train through races during the season, but we taper before WPIALs and states so the kids will be fresh and more explosive.”

Strelick said alternate runner Maty Zeckzer, who did not run at the PIAA championship, contributed in a bigger way than actually running in the event.

“She acted as a fourth coach and was great through it all,” Strelick said.

The good showing at states, coupled with the fact five of the seven qualifiers will return, has the team thinking positive thoughts for next season.

“That excitement is the best,” Strelick said. “They are all so new to this experience, and they brought such an energy to states. Nobody took this for granted.”

Even though there were not many seniors, those who were at states led the way.

“The experience was like no other,” Paine said. “The energy, the camaraderie, and the place itself all made it exciting.”

Paine enjoyed being a role model for the team and that aspect brought out her best.

“I worked hard for four years for this,” Paine said. “To finally be able to do this my senior year meant a lot to me.

“Seneca Valley cross country changed my life. It made me a better person, and I am excited for the future and my opportunities. It was a great way to end my high school career.”

Strelick said the seniors will be difficult to replace in 2014.

“Hopefully, some people will step up,” he said. “Our opponents will not lose many seniors, either, but we have some big shoes to fill.”

Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jeclark@tribweb.com.

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