It was one year in the making.
At Norlo Park, near Chambersburg, the site of the Penn State University Athletic Conference championship meet on the last weekend of October 2016, Penn State Schuylkill’s women’s cross country team boarded the team bus with bitter disappointment. Much was within their grasp, but they left the race empty-handed.
Schuylkill’s top runner, freshman Alexis Luna, a Shenandoah Valley graduate, valiantly challenged the league’s top runner, Scranton’s Alicia Kasson, before falling short over the last half-mile to lose the race by a 5-second margin.
As a team, Schuylkill’s women fell to Mont Alto by a mere three points.
After avenging both defeats at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship in Virginia Beach, Virginia, two weeks later, Luna and teammates Casey Gregory and Justice Demitro vowed to exact revenge in the 2017 season.
They began their quest in early July by getting together for informal training sessions. Then, in early August, Luna texted me with an announcement that her friend and two-time PIAA Cross Country Championships qualifier Carly Teaschenko of Shenandoah Valley would be joining the team.
In addition, the team bolstered its talent by adding two local freshmen: Jennie Li from North Schuylkill and Kristen Lowe, a Minersville graduate.
The team went undefeated in PSUAC meets throughout the season, and Luna led the squad in all but one race. At the Brandywine Invitational, as she and Teaschenko paced each other, Luna announced that she, “Just didn’t have it” that day, and Teaschenko took the honors.
As the season went on, Luna earned the PSUAC Runner of the Week honor three times and Teaschenko won the award once.
Last Saturday, in the rematch at Norlo Park for the 2017 PSUAC championship, a year of hard work and determination paid off.
Luna capped a magnificent season by winning the race, with Teaschenko placing second, only six seconds behind. Throughout the race, the two teammates and friends paced each other, leaving the competition behind.
Sophomore Casey Gregory ran her fastest time of the year, placing seventh and earning first-team All-Conference honors along with Luna and Teaschenko. Team captain Justice Demitro ran her fastest 6K ever and placed 11th, while Li finished 14th. They both earned second-team All-PSUAC honors. Lowe captured 16th place.
Penn State Schuylkill won the team title and avenged last year’s narrow defeat. This is the first team in Penn State Schuylkill’s history to win a PSUAC cross country championship.
The conference champions will now compete against more than 50 teams from small colleges across the country at the USCAA National Championships in Virginia Beach on Nov. 10. Last year Penn State Schuylkill placed 16th. The Lions are aiming for a top-10 finish this year.
Stoner wins ACC
Speaking of champions, Pottsville Area’s Paige Stoner is the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference cross country champion.
Running for Syracuse University, Stoner won the conference championship last Friday, covering the 6-kilometer course in a sizzling time of 19:52. Congratulations to Paige on this remarkable championship run.
(Muldowney is an avid runner and head coach of the Penn State Schuylkill cross country teams)