Shaler Area sophomore Brianna Schwartz capped a stellar season with an outstanding performance, finishing third in the Class AAA race at Saturday's PIAA cross country championships at the Parkview Course in Hershey.
Schwartz began the race by getting to the front of the pack in a group of eight. The beginning of the Hershey course is downhill, and a lot of runners go out fast. But after the first mile and a half, that group of eight had shrunk to five.
Schwartz ran with Unionville's Courtney Smith, Pennridge's Marisa Sheva, Cumberland Valley's Mady Clahane, and one familiar face, local rival Mary Malone, a junior from North Hills High School.
The five-some entered the Aloha Hills -- a stretch of the race filled with U-turns over uneven ground. Unionville's Smith took a commanding lead in front of the entire field following that stretch. She went on to win the championship, turning in a clocking of 18:16, 20 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.
Schwartz and Sheva made a breakaway of their own as well.
Neither Schwartz nor Sheva felt exhausted by the hills, "Aloha" or otherwise.
"I think we just had more left pushing up the hills," said Schwartz. "We were able to keep that pace and the others kind of fell back."
Schwartz finished with a time of 18:39 -- three seconds behind Sheva, the runner-up. Seconds after finishing, Schwartz's North Park training partner, Malone, crossed the finish line in 18:42.
"I turned around," Schwartz recalled, "Mary [Malone] finished [fifth], and we were just so happy. I was really proud of her. We were both able to do so well."
"[Schwartz's] time was probably about 40 seconds better than it was last year," said Shaler coach Mike Dusch. "It was an indication of how she's improved throughout the year."
In the 2011 PIAA race, Schwartz ran for a time of 19:19 and placed 22nd.
Dusch attributed a lot of Schwartz's success to consistency, and he attributed a lot of her consistency to good health.
"She did not suffer any injuries all the way from the summer until now," said Dusch. "That's why I think she's been so consistent."
As it turns out, Dusch was correct about Schwartz's consistency. When asked what she did to train for the state meet, Schwartz replied: "Pretty much what I do for all the big meets."
What Schwartz meant was that she began the week with long runs, either in North Park or around the Shaler Area High School neighborhood where she lives. A couple of days before the state meet, she ran 400s and 800s on the track.
"Not at race pace," Schwartz explained. "Just slightly slower than race pace."
Lastly, Schwartz just jogged the day before the PIAA championship meet. Clearly, the routine progression was a good one.
In past years, Schwartz actually trained with Shaler's boys cross country team because Dusch felt she ran at a pace comparable to theirs. Likewise, some of Schwartz's former training partners from the Shaler boys cross country team texted her to congratulate her on Saturday. One of the runners was 2012 graduate Joe Wanovich.
"They said they were proud of me and to keep it up," said Schwartz.
With spring track in Schwartz's future, there will be ample opportunity to keep the achievements rolling. She noted Pennridge's Marisa Sheva came in second in the 1,600-meter run at the PIAA track and field championships last spring. Schwartz was asked if she would like an opportunity to race Sheva in that event at the state track meet in May.
"Yeah -- definitely," Schwartz quickly answered.
First Published November 8, 2012 5:00 AM