The Moon Area girls' cross country team lost the Section 5-AAA title to West Allegheny last autumn, but the Tigers are making a statement this year under coach Kyle Burgess.
Senior Madison Marince and sophomore Isabelle Marsh are Moon's Nos. 1 and 2 runners, respectively.
The two began section competition in impressive fashion, coming in first and second as Moon played host to Ambridge Area and New Castle on Sept. 18.
Marince recorded a time of 21:52, and Marsh came in at 22:02 as the twosome masterfully negotiated Moon's jagged course.
In fact, eight out of the first nine places were taken by Moon girls that day. Assistant coach Larry Covelli explained that this was business as usual for the Tigers. The girls had even taken the competition in their training shoes, not running spikes.
"We ran it like more of a workout than a race," said Covelli.
Covelli explained that the Moon home course (which the Tigers share with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart) is completed as two laps.
"I told our top 10 girls, 'In the first lap, run together. In the second lap, if you want to push, it's fine.' And, they pushed a little bit at the end," Covelli commented. "The times were really good on our course, which is pretty hilly.
"If it were a tougher meet, we would have had the girls run in their spikes and given them strategy positions to be in for the race."
The Moon team is one that can tailor a strategy to the opposition based upon good knowledge of rival runners.
"You want your top runner to be competitive with or ahead of the other top runners," said Covelli.
"We want one or two of our top runners to try and break up the other teams' packs -- we always try to get a couple girls between their Nos. 2 and 3 runners."
Marince, like many No.1 runners, is a key part of Moon's ability to defeat its competitors. All No. 1 runners, however, have natural tendencies that must be worked into a team's plans.
"[Marince] doesn't go all out at the beginning," said Covelli. "She gets stronger as the race goes on. She's a good hill runner and she's very consistent in her performances."
This past Tuesday, Moon had its second Section 5-AAA meet versus Central Valley and Blackhawk at Central Valley. The meet was another steppingstone in the Tigers' plans for a bigger statement.
"As the big section meets get closer, the seniors think more about wanting to win their section title before they graduate," Covelli said. "And, I think we've been trying to keep them focused on long-term goals at the end of the season."
The "long-term goal" Covelli was referring to was, of course, PIAA meet qualification. With the PIAA adding a third classification this year, more cross country team berths will be offered than in past years. This is because the top three teams in WPIAL Classes AAA, AA and A can now compete as teams at the state meet. In past years, only the top four teams in WPIAL Classes AAA and AA could go to states.
"[Going to states as a team] is more of a realistic goal this year than it ever has been," said Covelli.
Moon is already practicing to make postseason statements. The Tigers won at this year's Slippery Rock Invitational, where they placed first of 17 teams in the girls' Class AA race. Furthermore, Moon placed third of 27 teams in the Class AA race at the Sept. 22 PIAA Foundation Invitational. The PIAA Foundation meet is run annually on the same Hershey course as the PIAA championship meet, which will take place in November.
When asked who might be Moon's top seven to run in the WPIAL and (possibly) state meets, Covelli already has a list in mind. Marince, Marsh, Dani Lewis, Kylie Nickles, Maddie Bell, Laura Stewart, Liz DiNardo and Mia Castelveter are on it. Note that this is a list of eight names and not seven.
"The competition is still going on," said Covelli.
The quest to get into the team's top seven is a motivator Covelli sees both in practice and in meets. But the fierce competition will only allow the Tigers' statements to continue.
"When you get competition like this, it pushes everybody," Covelli said.