HERSHEY >> At the two-mile mark, Cardinal O’Hara’s dream of winning the girls PIAA Class 3A cross country team title was within reach. The Lions trailed Oakland Catholic by four points and needed a spark to make up the difference in the final 1.1 mile.
Amid the hundreds of coaches, family members and friends yelling as the runners headed down the home stretch, two voices stood out that gave the Lions the inspiration they needed to make history.
The first was Tom Kennedy, the longtime boys coach who is in his first year coaching the girls team. He screamed out instructions and encouragement as Olivia Arizin, Liz Mancini, Eleanor Mancini, Christine Mancini, Sara Hayes, Katie Till and Celia Pastore passed his position one by one.
“We could hear him,” Arizin said. “He was loud.”
The second voice was that of Matt Hayes, Sara’s older sibling, and a member of the 2012 O’Hara boys team that tied for the PIAA 3A title only to finish second on a tiebreaker for the second year in a row. His instructions were directed solely at his sister.
“He said, ‘It’s down to you,’” Sara Hayes said. “’If you want this, it’s up to you.’”
The Lions responded to both forms of encouragement.
All seven runners made the push O’Hara needed in that final mile to upset Oakland Catholic, 107-146, winning the first PIAA team title in school history.
“The coaches and everyone yelling at us really helped,” Arizin said.
Battling a sinus infection and in 18th place after two miles, Arizin passed five runners down the stretch to earn her third straight state medal with a 13th-place finish in 18 minutes, 55 seconds. Liz Mancini broke out of a two-way tie for 20th to secure her first state medal with a 19th-place finish overall (19:01).
Down the line it was the same. Eleanor Mancini (19:45) came in 41st, but 23rd in the team competition. Christine Mancini placed 25th (19:52) in the team scoring and 48th overall.
No one, however, made a bigger jump than Hayes in the final mile. She passed 31 runners to finish 70th overall (20:09) and 36th as far as team scoring was concerned to secure the team title.
“This is insane,” Hayes said of winning the state title. “It’s awesome. It’s everything you dream about.”
Hayes, who also plays field hockey, was scheduled to race back in time to help O’Hara take on Northeast High School in the District 12 Class 3A title game later in the afternoon at the Germantown Supersite. However, her travel plans were delayed, with the blessing of field hockey coach Marie Murphy, so Hayes could stay for the awards presentation, which began at 2 p.m.
“I’m confident that we’re going to win,” Hayes said.
Hayes was right, as the Lions blasted Northeast, 7-0, to win a district field hockey title.
“This is like a movie,” Hayes said. “Everything’s perfect, field hockey and cross country, this is the perfect season.”
Liz Mancini looked for her sisters as soon as she crossed the finish line. After waiting a few seconds, she went to get a drink from the water station that was set up about 30 yards from the finish line. Liz Mancini had tears in her eyes and a cup of water in each hand when she finally saw her sisters.
“I’m just so happy with how this season has gone,” Liz Mancini said.
Those tears of joy began to flow again after it was confirmed that the Lions had won the team title.
“This is what we’ve been trying to do,” Liz Mancini said. “This has been our goal. This is what we’ve been aiming for our whole season. It means so much to us.”
Kennedy’s championship strategy was simple. He knew Oakland Catholic was the favorite, so he instructed the Lions to make it an individual competition and finish at least one place ahead of their counterparts from Pittsburgh. It took a burst down the stretch, but the Mancini sisters, Hayes and Till, O’Hara’s sixth runner, accomplished that goal.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Kennedy said. “They gave it their all today.”
Elsewhere in Class 3A, Isabel Cardi placed 56th overall (19:57) to help Strath Haven finish 12th in the team competition. Teammate Maddie Forbes was 92nd in the field of 213 runners.
Emma Seifried thought she was just having an off year until she decided to get checked out a few weeks ago.
The news was not good. The two-time All-Delco from Sacred Heart had mononucleosis, which presented her with a dilemma: Does she shut down for the season or continue running?.
“I figured it was the end of the season, so why stop now?” Seifried said.
While the ailment did slow her down, it did not prevent Seifried from earning her third straight state medal with a seventh-place finish in the girls Class A race.
Seifried crossed the finish line in 19 minutes, 35 seconds, 18 seconds behind the winner, Sera Mazza of St. Joseph’s Catholic. While that finish was a far cry from the consecutive second-place finishes she recorded as a freshman and sophomore, it was not a disappointment because this time around Seifried had company on the medals stand.
Teammate Kayleigh Doyle and twin sister Hannah Seifried also finished in the top 25 to lead the Lions to a fifth-place finish in the team competition. Doyle, a freshman, placed 14th in 19:35. Hannah Seifried was 22nd in 20:03. Freshman Chiara O’Keefe was 47th (20:54).
“It’s amazing,” Emma Seifried said. “I’ve never run with a team before, not in high school or in CYO. We won districts and we got to run together here. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
Elsewhere in Class A, Delco Christian’s Maggie Linton turned in a good showing. She was 39th in 20:40, while junior Kelly Shaughnessy was 168th (23;39). Bonner & Prendergast’s Jen Rastatter was 162nd overall and the Pandas were 20th in the Class 2A team competition.