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Mars cross country teams aren't running on empty

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 7:24 p.m.
The Mars girls cross country team finished 12th in the PIAA championships. Members of the team include (from left) Natalie Petrini, Emma Gentile, Liz Smialek, Reilly Butler, Sydney Cole, Shannon McChesney, Jessica Monberg and Lindsey Brand.
After winning the WPIAL Class AA girls championship, the Mars cross country team finished 12th at the PIAA meet.

The future looks bright for the Mars boys and girls cross country teams.

The present is not too shabby, either. The Planets wrapped up an historic season on the girls side and had some success on the boys team as well.

Mars captured the WPIAL Class AA girls team championship Oct. 24. The team finished with 74 points to defeat Greensburg Salem (90) and Moon (99) for its first district title since 1976. The Planets' success may be a surprise to some, as the squad had no seniors and finished seventh at last year's WPIAL meet.

“We are very proud of them. They worked hard all year long,” Mars coach Dale Boring said. “I wasn't surprised they did so well. We were pretty confident going in that we could do what we did.”

Freshman Natalie Petrini helped lead the way for Mars. She finished eighth overall in 20:29. Juniors Sydney Cole (20:31) and Shannon McChesney (20:36) were right behind.

Sophomore Jessica Monberg placed 21st in 21:09, and freshman Lindsey Brand was 24th in 21:13. Freshman Emma Gentile was 36th in 21:45, and junior Reilly Butler was 37th in 21:48.

The weather (rain, flurries, cold temperatures) proved difficult for some at the championship meet, but not the Mars girls.

“We try to train our kids to be mentally strong in many different ways. We don't let them make excuses. We feel that the more adverse the conditions, the better our kids will be,” Boring said. “They actually wish for bad weather. They like the mud, that's for sure.”

The entire team advanced to last weekend's PIAA championship meet in Hershey. The Planets finished 12th, but were the top finishers among WPIAL squads.

McChesney was 27th at states for Mars in 20:41. Petrini (61st, 21:33), Gentile (71st, 21:45), Brand (75th, 21:51), Monberg (80th, 21:54), Cole (86th, 22:04) and Butler (90th, 22:10) all got to experience the unique atmosphere of the championship meet.

“As a team, we were about six places short of our goal. It's a tough meet. Most of our girls were there for the first time. When that gun goes off, you can get lost in the shuffle easily,” Boring said. “We have a lot of young kids and they are all coming back. That experience will definitely help for next year.”

Going through the championship meet process gives the team a sense for what it needs to accomplish.

“We hope to go run in an invitational next year on the exact course to prepare ourselves for it even more,” Boring said.

The Mars boys finished second at the WPIAL meet last year, but came in fourth this year. The Planets narrowly missed a third-place finish and berth in the PIAA meet. They had 120 points and Quaker Valley had 118. South Fayette won the team title with 74 points, and Uniontown was second at 93.

“It was a bittersweet day for the program,” Boring said. “We were elated for the girls, but the boys missed by two points.”

Sophomore Nathan Mrdjenovich led Mars with a seventh-place finish in 17:11. Seniors Gage Zimmerman (21st, 17:38), Frankie Petrini (25th, 17:48) and John Caraway (33rd, 17:57) were next. Junior Brendan Knox (34th, 18:05) and Jacob Porter (38th, 18:10) were close behind, and sophomore Evan Monteleone finished 80th in 19:21.

Mrdjenovich (33rd, 17:25), Zimmerman (43rd, 17:38) and Petrini (120th, 18:16) earned berths to compete at the PIAA meet.

The Mars boys graduate three seniors, but they hope younger runners can step up next year.

“We're not going to count ourselves out next year. We have a very talented boy (Connor Amsler) coming in from our junior high program. We'll see,” Boring said. “We have good kids at Mars. They have good self-esteem, and they are raised well. It's pretty easy to teach them how to be successful.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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