It was a tough junior season for Tara Johnson. Dealing with injuries, the Pittston Area girls cross country star couldn’t match what she did her first two seasons.
Now as a senior, Johnson is healthy and her times show it. She’ll be the driving force behind Pittston Area’s chances of reaching District 2 supremacy this season.
Johnson took home first in the Tomato Festival 5K a few weeks back and finished in third at the prestigious Cliff Robbins Invitational last weekend.
“Tara is back on track,” Pittston Area head coach Joe Struckus said. “We had a tough junior season with injuries, but this summer she was able to put all her mileage in. I expect her to be one of the top finishers at districts.”
The Patriots return every significant runner from last year’s team, and have a few impressive newcomers. Coming off a 15-2 season last year, Struckus expects the Patriots to contend once again.
Behind Johnson, fellow seniors Arianna Boccardi and Abby Sheerer will be in the mix all season.
“The experience helps,” Struckus said. “A lot of the upperclassman have been running since they were freshmen. They’ve taken everyone under their wings.”
Johnson has taken freshman Bailey Loyack under her wings.
Pittston Area has been keeping tabs on Loyack since she was in seventh grade. Now as a freshman, Loyack is healthy and turning in impressive times. She finished 17th at the Cliff Robbins and was the highest finishing freshman.
“She’s been putting in the mileage and she’s going to be good for us,” Struckus said.
Along with Dallas, Hazleton and Lake-Lehman, Pittston Area will be vying for the league title. However, Struckus is looking more toward districts.
“There’s four strong teams in the league,” he said. “We’ll all be competing for the title. It’s going to be fun to watch. We want to be ready for districts.”
Under head coach Dave Jiunta, Pittston Area’s boys team will have to deal with a few strong runners lost from last season.
Eric Sklanka and state qualifier Mike Havrilla are gone due to graduation. Both of those runners were Pittston Area valedictorians and helped lead the Patriots in 2014. Jiunta would like to see his runners model themselves after those two runners.
“I want them to put up the effort,” he said. “I’d like them to use those guys as an example of how hard you have to work. They were leaders on the team for four years.”
Tony DeMark returns to the lineup for Pittston Area after being hurt a season ago. He’s Pittston Area’s top runner, Jiunta said. Behind DeMark, senior Mike Felter, Matt Holly and Mike Mazurkivitch are all expected to score for the Patriots this season.
Sophomore newcomer Hunter Kraklio, who moved to the area from Iowa earlier this year, along with sophomore Ryan Lombardo, Jason Deborah and John Martinez will look to contribute.
“You know you have to run 3.1 miles every time,” Jiunta said. “I’m happy with what they’ve done so far.”
Pittston Area started its season on Wednesday with a win against GAR and a loss to Coughlin. Kraklio was the top overall finisher for the Patriots, who beat GAR 18-45 and fell to Coughlin 22-35. Kraklio ran in 19:43.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick