Girls Cross Country Preview: Raiders, Tigers hope to defend
Northern Lehigh’s Regan Pender finished third in 2A. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Northwestern’s Kailyn Jones took 11th in 2A on at the D11 cross country championshp. NANCY SCHOLZ/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Tamaqua’s Francis Kabana took third place in the girls race. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Tamaqua and Northwestern were both undefeated in their respective leagues a year ago, and both teams return a wealth of talent this season as they look to continue that success.
COMING BACK ... Jim Thorpe will be counting on seniors Emma Gavornick and Saige Sterner, along with sophomore Tessa Bevilacqua, to lead the way this season.
UP-AND-COMING ... If the Olympians are going to improve on last year’s 6-11 mark, they will need contributions from freshmen Mckenzie Snyder, Megan Rosahac, Isabella Acker, Olivia Renode and Rachelle McFeeley. “We have an outstanding attitude, and they are very hard workers. A great group of freshmen who are enjoying the learning and growing process of cross country. Emma, Saige and Tessa are amazing role models for the freshmen,” said Jim Thorpe head coach Drew Benyo.
LOOKING AHEAD ... Benyo, in his 31st season as the Olympians’ head coach, and assistant Marie Rosahac, are hoping the mix of youth and experience leads to a more competitive season in the Schuylkill League Division I race. “Any improvement on last year’s record would be a tremendous boost to the confidence level of the five freshmen,” said Benyo.
QUOTABLE ... “We have a very young and inexperienced group, but some very strong leadership. This will be a learning season with some very high highs, and some very low low’s, but from that these young ladies will learn and grow, and hopefully transfer that to success in the future. I am very proud of the effort that they are putting in. (It) speaks very well for the future of the Girls Cross Country program at Jim Thorpe,” Benyo.
STRONG CORE ... The Indians look primed to improve on last year’s 11-5 record with talented group of experienced runners returning. “All of our runners from last year are back, so I am looking forward to another solid season,” said Lehighton head coach Erica Pagotto. The sixth-year head coach will be counting on Sarah Laible (senior), Alyssa Williams (junior), Tinaya Klotz (junior), Madison Cressley (junior), Asia Arner (junior), Kelsey Gaston (sophomore) and Kendall Mease (sophomore) will be key to the team’s success this season.
EXTRA HELP ... In addition to the experienced returnees, Pagotto will also be hoping Jamyson Cotterman (sophomore), Paige Wehr (sophomore), Maya Hutton (freshman), Leilani McClure (freshman), Matalyn Rehrig (freshman) and Sophia Foreaker (freshman) can contribute this season. “It’s nice to have all the girls back again this season, plus some new freshman. I think the girls will continue their streak of a winning season,” said Pagotto.
SPLIT SQUAD ... Several of Pagotto’s runners will be busy with more than just cross country this fall. “We have a couple of key runners who are also participating in other sports, so they will not be at every practice/meet. That could negatively impact our score for certain meets, but I give them credit for playing two sports,” she said.
NEW FACE ... Pagotto will have a new assistant this season. Tim Pagotto will be helping as an assistant this fall.
QUOTABLE ... “The girls are working toward specific goals and I think that will carry them to a strong finish. They are close knit and accountable to each other,” Pagotto.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN ... The Fillies lost one of the premier runners in both this sport and track in Tina Capparell. A four-time state medalist, a state champion anda team leader, she leaves a huge void.
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK ... Tom Kostic is one of the best at getting kids to run for distance. He showed it way back in the day when defunct Bishop Hafey was on scene capturing a state title. “We set goals, we encourage getting better and kids want to train and listen,” said the venerable Kostic.
HELP IS COMING ... Surely the loss of Tina Capparell can never be replaced but her sister is Nicole he a strong runner in her own right. “She’s got the (Capparell) gene,” points out Kostic. And she is the lone senior lady with medal experience.
TRIO OF RETURNEES ... In addition to Nicole Capparell, Kostic is loading the gate with three juniors; Carolyn Mehallo, Julia Kreisl and Andraya Pikitus. “All of those girls can make an impact,” said Kostic. “If they pace themselves they’ll do just fine.”
YOUNGSTERS ... Kostic has two freshmen that may be a part of the success for this edition of runners in Hometown. Grace Curnow and Isabella Genao. “They’ll get a chance to compete and bring them along slowly.”
SECRET TO SUCCESS ... Kostic isn’t pushing panic buttons, just prepping his team for the end of the season. “I like to get our team in shape, get them ready for the end of the season and make a run at the districts. If we continue to improve, I think we can be competitive and make an impact.”
VETERAN PRESENCE ... Head coach Dave Oertner is entering his 37th season as head coach. Oertner has compiled a 432-347 record coaching the girls during his tenure. Overall, Oertner has a record of 986-657. His assistants are Lori-Beth Guelcher, and Amy Zeiser (middle school). Zeiser has been coaching for 12 years, while Guelcher has done so for three.
FRONT RUNNER ... Reagan Pender enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, finishing fifth at the Colonial League meet, and third at districts to advance to states. Look for Pender to be even stronger in her junior season. Katie Guelcher (senior), Ali Lorah (junior), Kristin Guelcher (sophomore) and Natalie Keller (sophomore) also will be counted on to help the team improve last year’s 11-13 record. “We do have some proven talent in the returning trio of Reagan Pender, Katie Guelcher, and Ali Lorah. After a breakout season last year where she finished third in the District 11 meet and qualified for the PIAA championship meet, Reagan has increased her work load this summer and looks very strong in the early going. She should definitely be considered in the mix for the individual Colonial League and District XI championships, Katie and Ali are also entering the season in good shape and are looking impressive as well. They could be top tier performers this season and have the potential to finish very high in the league and district meets,” said Oertner.
KEEP AN EYE ON ... Sophomore Emily Hunsicker and freshman Steph Steckel are also going to be counted on to play a key role on the team, which loses Tori Csandi, this season. “While there is strength up front, the girls’ squad also lacks depth and experience. While I expect our top three runners to be very competitive, we will need our returning sophomores and new athletes to improve very quickly if we hope to challenge the top teams in the Colonial League. While this squad’s lead runners may prove to be some of the more elite runners in the league, the young support runners will need to improve quickly and come through as well to be considered a top tier team. Individually, this could be an exciting year for some of our established runners, and since our girls’ team has dropped down in classification this season, we hope to be a team contender at the district level as well,” said Oertner.
MORE THE MERRIER ... Northern Lehigh will be competing in several invitationals this season. The Bulldogs will run at the Lion Invitational, the DeSales Invite and possible the PIAA Foundation event, which is held in Hershey on the same course used for the state cross country meet.
QUOTABLE ... “As a whole, this is a small but quality group of athletes. A number of them have shown great dedication over the summer preparing for the season, and I truly hope that their effort translates to the success they deserve on the race course,” Oertner.
TRADITION … Northwestern has made the trip to the PIAA Cross Country Championships in Hershey plenty of times over the years. Last year was no different as a team the Tigers picked up a sixth-place finish out of a field of 19 teams. Head coach Chris Stitzel, a seasoned mentor, is hoping to keep the tradition in tact, led by a strong returning core. Northwestern, who lost just two of its top six runners, finished a perfect 24-0 in Colonial League competition last year and recorded a second-place finish at the District 11 Championships.
GRADUATED … Molly Tarvin and Hannah Herzon capped outstanding careers with big senior seasons a year ago.
THEY’RE BACK ... Four runners who had outstanding seasons a year ago return to lead the way. Sophomore Kailyn Jones finished 11th at districts (27th at states), senior Madeline Consuelos was 14th at districts (59th at states), senior Alyssa Zach was 15th at districts (34th at states) and senior Sarah Supplee was 17th at districts (52nd at states).
OUT AND RUNNING … Stitzel thinks junior Allison Costa to be the Tigers’ fifth runner in most races. Freshmen Molly McGorry and Roselyn Bernhard add some more depth on the Tigers’ roster.
STANDARD SET … Stitzel said the Tigers’ team goals are pretty much set in stone. “Our goal every year is to get to leagues and then be in the top two at districts,” Stitzel said. “We’ve been going pretty much every year as a team, so that is our goal every year.”
SECOND ACT ... Joshua Nenscel is entering his second season as the Blue Bombers’ head coach. Nenscel’s assistant is Mike Martinez.
BIG LOSS ... Palmerton will have to replace Hanna Nesfeder. She was 28th at the league meet and ninth at districts. “Having enough girls to compete as a team means we are heading in the right direction,” said Nenscel about the fact the Bombers have only had a few individual runners the past several years and not the minimum of five needed for team scoring . “We have a lot of new additions to the team.”
DO THE WORK ... Nenscel has liked what he’s seen so far. “We have a hard training plan that started June 18, and have seen a lot of good results thus far,” he said.
BRIGHT FUTURE ... “Numbers are still low, but there are 38 on the junior high team, so the outlook is good,” said Nenscel.
MILESTONE ... The 2018 season marks George Fair’s 20th as head coach at Pleasant Valley. He is assisted by Rick Rimple.
SMALL, BUT MIGHTY ... While the numbers might be a bit down at PV, Fair likes what he’s seen from returnees Samantha Segeda (senior), Kelley Lesnik (senior), Julliana Lopez (junior) and Lily Mingora (sophomore). Sophomore Grace Mingora should also play a key role in helping the Bears improve on last year’s 5-12 record and be more competitive in the always tough Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.
SHOES TO FILL ... Pleasant Valley will have to replace Sarah Larkin, Alyssa Greico and Savanah Bauman from last season’s squad. “We’re a small team, but we have a number of returning varsity runners from last season. I am hoping we will be a stronger team this year with the experience gained from last year,” said Fair.
QUOTABLE ... “If young athletes challenge one another in practice throughout the season, their growth can be significant,” Fair.
THEIR BACK ... Coach Kanger’s team is always at the top of the heap and have been 49-0 since last losing a league meet. And what makes this group more daunting the return of two state qualifiers in senior Sarah Maue and sophomore Frances Kabana, and there’s returning junior all-star Lottie Mateyak. There is even more talent on the squad with senior April Gerber and the return of junior Brianna Dumond, who was injured a season ago.
THEIR GONE ... Quality runners departed via the graduation route, including Kailee Carroll, Abby Fiorilla, Arianna Ryan, Maizy Troxell and Olivia Stanek.
LET’S STACK THE DECK .. The Lady Raiders not only have quality but quantity too. Kanger is high on frosh Grace Stegemerten who could make a major impact. Toss in sophomores in Hailey Toth and Natalie Hydro, and freshman Vanessa Poko and it creates a deep roster.
GRINDING IT OUT .. Tamaqua has some youthfulness on a squad that will get stronger by the time mid-October is upon us and the newcomers will pick up “real-time” experience which makes for a big plus
AS HE CALLS IT .. “We lost some very good runners from last season’s team, but we bring back experience and a healthy Dumond, who had a fantastic track season. Our younger girls need experience, but are expected to push back. The possibility of a four-peat in the team league title is there this season. Its been a long time since our last league loss and we want to keep that streak going. Districts is always a tossup, but we should be in the running again even with the changes in AA.”
LOT OF LOVE .., Coach Paul Schertrumpf is excited about what is on the horizon for his team. “It’s only my third year, but I love what we have in terms of work ethic, potential and some very, very good athletes.”
WHO IS SHINNING .., The Wreckers return one of the premier athletes in the Schuylkill League in Emily Zoscin. She is only a junior and is already drawing looks from Division I Colgate among other schools. “She does it all and she could be a terrific runner as she gets older,” said Schertrumpf. In addition to excelling in cross country, Zoscin is a two-time All-Stater in basketball where she has already surpassed the 1,000-point mark, and is a state qualifier in track.
PLUGGING IN THE HOLES ... Schertrumpf said he needs to find replacements for a trio of runners who have graduated in Gillian Hinkle, Jillian Bartel and Lindsey Hoffman.
SETTING THE STAGE ... The Wreckers have four strong returnees in addition to Zoscin. Two of those veterans are potential point producers in seniors Megan Peifer and Abby Hernandez. They are joined by sophomores Elizabeth Marshman and Makenna Banks. “We will get better down the road and I like our top five runners,” mentioned Weatherly’s coach.
NEWBIES ... Senior Nicole Gordon, a first-time cross country runner, and freshman Nicole Knight give the Wreckers some depth.
AS I SEE IT ... Schertrumpf says he’s pumped even though the numbers may seem thin, because of sveral solid returnees and the potential of the newcomers. “We may not be a threat this season, but we will get that experience needed and plant a seed of winning down the road.”
Sam Matta and TJ Engle also contributed to this story.