As she took her place on the starting line for the girls’ Class 3A race at the PIAA cross country championships Saturday, Cardinal O’Hara’s Liz Mancini did not feel good about her chances of winning the individual title.
“It did not seem doable,” Mancini said.
She had historical reasons to be so apprehensive. No female runner from Delaware County or District 12 had ever won an individual championship at the state cross country meet.
At the 1.5 mile mark, though, Mancini began to think winning was a possibility. There was only one runner in front of her, Katie Dammer of Abington Heights.
Suddenly, Mancini had a change of heart.
“When we were coming toward the two-mile mark I was feeling pretty good,” Mancini said. “I figured I had to at least try to go for it.”
Mancini went for it and made history as the first female from O’Hara, Delco and District 12 to capture the state gold. She crossed the finish line at the Parkview Course in Hersey in 18 minutes, 18 seconds, six seconds ahead of runnerup Clara Savchik of North Allegheny, and 16 seconds in front of Upper St. Clair’s Savannah Shaw. Dammer was fourth in 18:35.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Mancini said of her historical run.
It was Mancini’s second straight state medal. She was 19th when the Lions won the team title a year ago. O’Hara was 13th in the team competition this year. Mancini is the third county athlete to win an individual title and the first since Sharon Hill’s Gary Simpson took the boys’ Class 2A crown in 1971. Upper Darby’s Sam Brown is the only other individual winner from the county. He won the boys Class 3A title in 1945.
Although she won with room to spare, Mancini did not take any chances. She committed the runner’s cardinal sin and looked back as she approached the finish line.
“I was hoping no one would outkick me,” said Mancini, who will attend La Salle along with her twin sister, Eleanor. Their older sister, Grace, is a sophomore at La Salle.
No one did, yet Mancini could not believe she was a state individual cross country champion.
“It’s crazy,” Mancini said. “It doesn’t feel real.”
Mancini wasn’t the only county runner to come home with some state hardware. Penncrest’s Avery Lederer and Anthony Harper of Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast also earned state medals. The top 25 runners in each classification received a medal.
Lederer, the Delco champ, placed 12th in the boys’ Class 3A race. He crossed the finish line in 16:12, just three spots out of a top-10 finish. Teammate Patrick Theveny placed 61st. Lederer’s finish was the best by a Penncrest runner since Chris Kazanjian placed sixth in Class 3A in 2013.
“It was good to finish the season the way I did,” Lederer said.
He credited his training and his mental approach to his medal winning performance.
“I just tried to stay relaxed and see what I could do,” Lederer said. “I didn’t put any excess expectations on myself.”
That low key approach served Lederer well. He was in 24th place at the one-mile mark and moved up to 15th at two miles.
“Things are always tight at that first mile,” Lederer said. “As I approached two miles I heard the spectators yelling 17th and 18th. It was a good sign. I knew I was in solid medal position and I was feeling relaxed and picked up the pace in the third mile.”
Bonner & Prendie’s Tony Harper finished 24th in the boys Class 2A race to earn his second straight state medal. He was 14th last season. There was some question as to whether or not Harper would compete in the state championships. He’s been battling what he said are stress fractures in both ankles and thought about not running.
“It hurt, but it’s my senior year,” Harper said. “To medal twice at the state meet is a good feeling.”
Harper said the toughest part were the hills. He had trouble picking up his knees yet managed to stay in medal contention.
“With about 400 meters to go I was somewhere between 24th and 30th,” he said. “I knew I had to push through.”
In girls’ Class A, sophomore Kayleigh Doyle of Sacred Heart just missed earning her second straight state medal. She was 26th. Doyle finished 14th as a freshman. Teammate Emma Seifried could not get her fourth state medal. She placed 39th.
Jenna Rastatter of Bonner & Prendergast was the top Delco finisher in the girls’ 2A race, finishing 34th.
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