A positive mindset prepared the Upper St. Clair girls cross country team for its first foray into PIAA competition.
Before the Lady Panthers embarked on their journey to Hershey, Martin Hehir in town for the EQT 10-mile race, which the Syracuse graduate won in 2018, sent the team a message.
“It was heartfelt,” said Doug Petrick, who coordinates USC’s cross country and track programs. “For any high school athlete entered in high-stakes competitions, it can be super stressful. So it’s critical to remember why you did this in the first place and that there are so many life lessons that can be learned from athletics.
“Martin told them similar things. He said to have fun racing and don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the process.”
Maureen Chermak echoed the same sentiment. The USC coach reminded her charges to keep going what they’ve been doing and the results will take care of themselves. Chermack also implored them not to be a “super hero.”
“Find joy in the competition,” she said, “and derive strength from rallying around your teammates.”
The Lady Panthers did exactly as instructed. USC finished fourth as a team in the Class AAA race with 172 points. North Allegheny won the title with a 137 score followed by State College (152) and Hershey (164).
Clair Hoffman led the pack, placing 23rd overall with a 19:52 time. Jillian Fishel (31st), Vianna Shiry (34th), Molly Maher (36th) and Jaclyn Martinelli (48) finished in the top 50 time Lauren Hart (94th) and Carly Abraham (116th) contributed to the USC showing.
“Each one of our girls is so supportive of each other and understand that it’s important to have fun in athletics. As coaches, we know it’s a central point to remember throughout the ups and downs of a season.
“Leading up to the race in Hershey, the girls did a tremendous job of staying loose, calm and positive and it showed in their performances,” Petrick continued. “Coach Chermak and I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Wow,” he exclaimed of the fourth-place finish. “What makes that even neater is that this was the first time USC has had a ladies team at the state meet.”
The USC boys, however, had only two entries but seniors Alex Shaw and Kasey Turner capped their careers with personal best times of 16:50 and 17:15.4 respectively in finishing 53rd and 113th overall.
“Alex and Kasey both had a rewarding states trip,” Petrick said. “When you give that type of effort, it’s hard to ask for anything more,” he added of their PRs.
With Hoffman, a junior, Fishell, a freshman, Maher and Martinelli, both sophomores, returning to the line-up, the USC cross country program is grateful to its senior leaders as well as hopeful for the future.
“It’s fun to see how far these athletes have helped push the culture forward for the program. Once athletes buy into each other and the team, the sky is the limit. Each year, they redefine success & set the bar higher for the next group. We feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for all the support we’ve received from Panthers past & present.
“The USC cross country crew loves to compete when the starter pistol is fired. Additionally, they each committed to the training to help them reach states. We embraced each other’s visions for the team. We can only look for better times ahead.”
Better times are ahead because USC’s competitors have also raised the bar. Mt. Lebanon’s Patrick Anderson captured his second straight PIAA Class AAA title. South Fayette captured the girls Class AA team title (see related articles) while Moon’s Mia Cochran, a sophomore, and Bethel Park’s Emily Carter, a junior, finished 1-2 individually with times of 17:53 and 18:11.
“Emily and Patrick ran amazing races,” Petrick said. “To finish second and first respectively in their races is truly a monumental accomplishment. It does a lot for their programs, the South Hills and the WPIAL in general.
“South Fayette also had an awesome finish,” he added. “We really admire the fantastic things the athletes are doing over there in such a classy and positive atmosphere.
“All of these things,” Petrick concluded, “makes everyone better.”