Marianne Abdalah wanted to stay as close to 2012 Class A state champion Kennedy Weisner of Elk County Catholic as possible for the first mile of Saturday's PIAA Class A cross country meet, then try to beat her on the hills at the Hershey Park course.
Abdalah, a freshman at Vincentian, not only dusted Weisner on the uphill terrain, she put her name in the record books. Abdalah won the PIAA Class A meet with a time of 18:24, which broke Weisner's state record of 18:29, which she set last year.
"I'm very excited to win as a freshman," Abdalah said. "I'm hoping to win all four years."
Abdalah, who also won the WPIAL title, has had a banner year, even against competition from bigger schools. Abdalah finished first at the Slippery Rock Invitational, and second at the Red, White & Blue Classic, Central Invitational and the Tri-State Coaches Association cross country championship.
But her best race may have been Saturday. She beat second-place Beth Shenck of Avonworth by 56 seconds and Weisner by 57 seconds.
After the first mile, Abdalah and Weisner were just one second apart. But by the end of the second mile, Abdalah was all alone, 26 seconds ahead of Weisner, and continued to build her lead down the stretch.
"She wanted to stay with the girl from Elk Catholic for the first mile and then beat her up the hills, and she did exactly that," Vincentian coach Dan Carlino said. "It wasn't her best time of the season, but this was a much harder course. I'd have to say this was her best race of the season."
North Allegheny finishes strong
The night before the PIAA Class AAA meet, North Allegheny coach John Neff gathered his team members together and told them how they stacked up against his past teams.
"I told them I was certain this was the best team I've ever coached," said Neff, who has been the coach for all of North Allegheny's nine consecutive WPIAL titles and its 2010 PIAA title.
"But it still wasn't enough."
West Chester Henderson had three runners place in the top 18 and finished the PIAA Class AAA meet with 60 points, which was 37 fewer than second-place North Allegheny.
"They were dynamic," Neff said of West Chester Henderson.
The Tigers were led by Cordon Luoco, Matt McGoey and Hunter Wharrey, who finished 22nd, 24th and 29th, respectively.
Luoco was the only senior among North Allegheny's top five finishers Saturday, so North Allegheny figures to be very strong again in 2014.
"We're going to have a good group of guys next year," Neff said. "We have a few sophomores and some freshmen that should step up. I think we'll miss our seniors for sure, but we have some pretty good guys coming back."