YATESVILLE — Little has changed for Pittston Area’s girls cross country team. Besides losing four-time state qualifier Tara Johnson to graduation, the Patriots will welcome back much of their firepower this season.
Senior Arianna Boccardi and sophomore Bailey Loyack will lead a talented group of runners who placed second in last year’s Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 3A championships. Head coach Joe Struckus, in his 10th season at Pittston Area, expects his girls to contend once again in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
This year, the Patriots will compete in the WVC 3A division. Taking over from a leadership standpoint in Johnson’s absence will be Boccardi and fellow senior Jessica Tighe.
“She’s really put in a lot of work this summer and is looking good,” Struckus said. “Arianna and Jessica Tighe will take on the leadership roles.”
As far as losing Johnson, her four years with the team helped pave the way for future success, Struckus said.
“Losing Tara was big, but there are replacements that learned from her,” he said. “It’s a loss, but it’s not a suffering loss.”
Loyack finished within one place and six seconds of earning a state berth when she placed seventh in the 52-runner field in 21:20 at the district championships. Boccardi finished ninth, while Tighe and sophomore Genny English finished 21st and 22nd, respectively.
Junior Mary Silinskie, who has district experience, and freshman Nicole Zambetti will begin the season rounding out the scoring for Pittston Area. Seniors Ali Carroll and Katrina Dillon will also contribute.
Zambetti recently won the Tomato Festival 5K in her age division with a time under 21 minutes. That time would have been in the top-5 at last year’s district championships.
“She’s been working very hard and asking a lot of questions,” Struckus said. “That Tomato Festival run was a really good indicator of where she’s at.”
In the league, Struckus believes Lake-Lehman, Hazleton Area and Dallas will be contenders, much like the last several seasons.
“We’re one of the upper echelon teams in the league,” he said. “We should be right up there with those teams.”
Boys to continue success
The boys cross country team is in a similar situation to the girls team. Head coach Dave Jiunta, in his 15th season at the helm for Pittston Area, welcomes back the majority of his scorers from a season ago.
Pittston Area didn’t compete as a team in the district championships last season, but it did send several runners, and most of that experience is back this season.
Seniors Tony DeMark, Jon Martinez and Jason DeBoard led the way last year for Pittston Area and will all be back to improve on last year’s finish. Fellow seniors Matt Holly and Michael Mazurkivich are also seniors returning with experience.
“(Experience) is more important (in running) than any other sport,” Jiunta said. “These are guys that have been running distance instead of coming in cold. There are just kids that like to run, you can spot them. You either like it or you hate it.”
DeMark and DeBoard will look to be Pittston Area’s top runners this season. DeMark, who is part of the Junior ROTC program, is a very discipline runner, Jiunta said. In the last couple years, DeMark has nearly medaled at the district meet, and qualified for states. His goals this year are to get over the hump.
“He has the right attitude,” Jiunta said. “He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached.”
And while the Patriots have a mix of experience back, they also welcome some underclassmen to figure into the equation. New to the scene this season will be freshman Tony Molinaro. Molinaro’s times have been impressive thus far. He has improved his times since entering high school this year.
Jiunta expects the Patriots to be able to beat the teams they weren’t able to beat last season and have a successful campaign. The boys will also open the season Saturday, Sept. 3 at the Cliff Robbins Invitational at Misericordia University.
“It all starts there,” Jiunta said. “That’s the starting point for the whole season. That gauges everything.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick