For a late-September invitational, the Foundation Meet in Hershey provided the South Fayette girls cross country team a barometer for where it hoped to be at this point in the season.
The Lions finished right behind Northern and grabbed the runner-up trophy in the Class AA division on the course where the PIAA championships will be run Nov. 2.
Northern, which won the team title by three points, 76-79, over the Lions, entered the meet ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA. Northern is considered the fifth-ranked squad in all groupings in Pennsylvania.
“We were very happy for us to be as close to them as we were,” said SF head coach Joe Winans. “Northern will certainly be one of the teams to beat in November.”
By the time the Lions compete in the Oct. 5 Grove City Invitational, they plan to be aligned to challenge Northern as well as Warrior Run and Central Cambria for a state title.
“Grove City is our next big meet. There we will look to put together another strong team showing,” Winans said. “We have been focusing on improving our 1-5 spread, as well as pulling our No. 6 and No. 7 runners as close to our top 5 as possible.”
To date, Lauren Iagnemma has been the Lions top runner. The sophomore finished in eighth place at the Foundation Meet with a time of 20:21.
Hailey Poe, who was competing in her first big invitational since competing in the Junior World Triathlon Championships in Switzerland, had a top 20 showing. The senior clocked a 20:52 to finish 19th overall.
Senior Steffanie Kozak (22nd), sophomore Gabby Baiano (25th) and freshman Angelina Gabriel (27th) completed SF’s top 5 and finished within 14 seconds of each other.
Junior Emma Fleck (49th) and senior Peyton Yater (97th) rounded out SF’s top 7.
“The girl’s team ran very well,” Winans said. “We were happy with our finish. It was about what we would have expected.
“The girls have been racing confidently and consistently,” he continued. “We have been racing relaxed and controlled and still have been putting together some nice times.”
The South Fayette boys team competed in the Blue Race without one of its top five runners, but still managed six finishers in the top 85. The Lions (207) finished sixth overall as a team, one point behind fifth-place Ringgold (206).
Zach Conner led the pack, placing 15th overall with a 17:32 time. Aaron Skerbetz and Jake Borges were 35th and 36th overall. Roman Galioto, Zachary Betz and Drew Whiteside completed the Lions’ showing.
“Our race execution was pretty good, but we need to improve our consistency from race to race,” Winans said. “It was encouraging to see that with a less than ideal day of racing, we still placed fairly well against other WPIAL teams.”
Winans said he is “optimistic” his runners can place among the top 3 teams at the WPIAL championships to be held Oct. 24 at California University of Pennsylvania. He said he anticipates a tight grouping of about four or five teams looking to fill PIAA qualifying spots behind New Castle. The Lions are in the mix with Indiana, Greensburg Salem, Ringgold and Beaver.
Emily Carter of Bethel Park placed third overall in the Gold Race. Mia Cochran from Moon won the Class AAA division with an 18:21 time followed by Hannah Lindgren, who led North Allegheny to the team title.
Lizzie Brucker from Peters Township and Molly Maher of Upper St. Clair were the area’s other top performers, placing 29th and 46th, respectively. Canon-McMillan’s Stephanie Keelon also had a top 50 showing.
In junior varsity action, the Mt. Lebanon girls finished fourth in the team standings. Caroline Brustoloni placed sixth overall. Other tops finishers for the Blue Devils included Elizabeth Teufel, Emma McGreevy, Danielle Duncan and Rowan Ford.
Lebo’s top finisher in the varsity Blue Race was freshman Elsie Hackworth in 72nd position. Emma Toussaint and Allison Small also placed in the top 100.