Hailey Poe challenged Lauren Iagnemma and the results benefited both runners as they joined forces with Angelina Gabriel, Steffanie Kozak, Emma Fleck, Morgan Lukenich and Gabby Baiano to give South Fayette its third straight WPIAL championship in girls cross country.

A sophomore, Iagnemma finished third overall with a 19:49 time. A senior, Poe placed fifth in 20:34.

Brownsville’s sister tandem of Gionna and Jolena Quarzo grabbed gold- and silver-medal laurels with marks of 18:56 and 19:38.

“At the end of last year, Lauren and I were talking and she said ‘I wish I could be up there with you’ and I said, ‘Come on, Come get me.’ That’s what I want,” said Poe, the team’s captain. “I want someone to come get me so that we can keep striving for the highest that we can as a team and she has done that this season and it’s been just amazing.”

Head coach Joe Winans agreed that Iagnemma’s progression into the Lady Lions’ top runner has been remarkable. But, it’s her nature to become the best.

“Lauren is the nicest, sweetest monster that I have ever met because she is a monster,” he said. “She is starting to understand that she can be really good at this but we still don’t know what her ceiling is, which is fantastic. With a runner that young with that kind of potential, she has a very high ceiling.”

Iagnemma and the Lady Lions place a high premium on success and they desire to do it together and in a step-by-step manner. Their consecutive district titles are just part of the process. They anticipate challenging for a state team title on Nov. 2 when the PIAA championships are held in Hershey.

“With the girls’ team we have had the mindset all year. We are going to win a state championship. So let’s use opportunities that we have to work on things that are going to help get us closer to that goal,” Winans said.

Camaraderie contributes to that objective.

“Our girls understand how important they are to each other,” Winans said. “They understand how each person’s individual success can make us better even if someone else from our team might pass you or have a better race. They have enough humility and maturity to understand that we just got better. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I ran a poor race. It means that you ran a good one.”

All the Lady Lions ran a good race as they accumulated 51 points that included those three Top 7 performances by Iagnemma, Poe and Gabriel as well as Top 20 showings by Kozak and Fleck. Lukenich placed 22nd and Baiano followed in 30th position.

“We have a really good team,” Iagnemma said. “We’re all friends and we mesh together. Having a team that’s strong and really supports you is important. We all help pull each other through the races.”

According to Poe, a four-year letter winner, that has been key for the Lady Lions.

“I am just so impressed with my teammates and how we’ve come together as a team over the last three years. From not even making it as a freshman as a team to states to coming through and winning three titles, back-to-back, that is just a stellar accomplishment that I cannot even begin to describe,” she said. “When it sinks in, oh my goodness, that will be crazy.”

Crazy, too, was the showing of the South Fayette boys. The Lions went from finishing 10th last year to securing the runner-up team trophy.

New Castle won the team title with 79 points. The Lions followed with a 94 score.

Zach Conner led the way. He finished fifth overall with a 17:14 time.

“Our team performed the best possible it could,” Conner said. “I thought it was a great team effort. We rallied hard. It was the best race we have had all season.”

Aaron Skerbetz and Jake Borgesi complemented Conner’s effort. The junior and freshman followed in 13th and 14th position with respective times of 17:33 and 17:36.

Junior Drake Simpson and senior Drew Whiteside finished in the Top 35 while freshmen Roman Galioto and Zack Warhol completed SF’s lineup.

Because the Lions were fit and in great shape, Winans expected them to be in the mix with the top contenders.

“We have a saying, ‘just get us in the mix’ because if we are in the mix, I like our chances,” he said. “I know that we are a team that will contend.”

Execution is why the Lions are able to contend. Not only did they perform, they managed the course and the conditions.

“Courses change, conditions change but one thing that has been constant for our boys and girls this year is our execution,” Winans said. “We went out and we knew if we did that again then things could turn out very well. We were expecting a third so second was a pleasant surprise for us.”

With their showing in the district, the SF boys have raised the bar for the PIAA championships.

“We’ve said all along that if we can get out of the WPIAL, we are a Top 10 team in the state. So, getting out of the WPIAL and being as close as we were to New Castle, which is a strong team, we give ourselves a chance to get in there and maybe finish in as high as that five, six, seven spot. If we go out and execute like the way we are capable of doing,” Winans said.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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