Baldwin’s Gina Bolla leaves lasting mark on cross country program

Saturday, November 28, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Gina Bolla entered the Baldwin cross country program in 2017 as a quiet, unassuming freshman.

Four years later, she’s emerged as the crown jewel of the program.

Bolla is a cross country, indoor and outdoor track athlete. She placed 20th at this year’s PIAA Class AAA meet with a time of 20:00 and is the first girl from Baldwin to earn a state medal in cross country since Carole Zajac placed fifth, first and first between 1987-89.

“The conditions for the state meet were very warm,” Bolla said. “The course was very hilly. I finished in the top 25 and it was very exciting for me.”

Baldwin coach Rich Wright was ecstatic over his diminutive star runner’s performance in Hershey.

“Gina is the first girl to medal at states since Carole in 1989,” Wright said. “I called Carole on our way home, and Gina spoke with her.

“Gina has been a constant bright spot in our program. She has worked so hard. She worked harder, longer and reached a level few achieve. She’s a dream to coach. She never complains. She is cross country.”

Wright and Amanda Setree shared coaching duties at Baldwin in 2020.

“Amanda has monitored Gina’s work and has played such a crucial role in her success for the past six years,” Wright said. “The cross country program is in great hands with Amanda.”

Bolla, a Whitehall resident, displayed her unique poise and perseverance at the WPIAL championship meet.

“The conditions were very rough,” she said. “It was very cold and muddy. I lost my shoe in the mud during the last 200 meters, but I still succeeded in running a sub-19-minute 5K.”

Outside the PIAA and WPIAL finals, Bolla won a few races in preparation for the postseason, taking first place at the Boston Trail (18:07) and the Used Town Clash (19:31).

“My personal best was the Boston Trail,” she said. “I came in first place with a PR time. My favorite meet of the year was the Baldwin Eagle Invite. The adrenaline was very high that day.”

Bolla also secured first place in three of the Highlanders’ four section races. She said the Baldwin athletes remained safe throughout the season despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid-19 actually increased the team’s morale because we were so happy to actually have a season and be able to compete,” Bolla said. “We never knew when it would be shut down. The only race we were unable to compete at was the Gateway Invitational, which is held over Labor Day weekend.

“Coach Wright is one of the main reasons we were able to hold big invitationals. He was instrumental in planning and protocols to keep everyone safe and still be able to run. Things looked and felt very different this season due to covid. Yet we are very fortunate that we were able to have a complete season.”

Bolla was joined by senior Lena Barakat, freshmen Mackenzie Hirt and Eliza Swanson and sophomore Rebekah Priano in the starting lineup in 2020.

The top five runners on the boys team consisted of senior Zach Wyse, sophomore Andrew Barrett, junior Dom Ditoro, senior Xander Rayburg and junior Bobby Konesky.

Bolla will continue her running career at Duquesne, where she will compete in cross country and track while majoring in speech and language pathology with the health sciences department. She said she did consider other options but was swayed to stay local at Duquesne.

“I really like their health department programs,” Bolla said.

A two-time state qualifier, Bolla owns a lofty 4.2 GPA. She is a distance runner for Baldwin’s outdoor team, competing in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

She is a four-year letter winner in cross country and has earned two letters in both indoor and outdoor track.

Bolla has participated in dancing for more than a decade and in martial arts for eight years. She has attained black belt status in karate.

She has served as a member of the Math League, Service Club, Mini Thon and Earth Club, as well being a volunteer in the Special Olympics program.

Hopefully, she will experience has a spring season that will properly cap her outstanding high school athletic career.

“My Baldwin cross country years are very bittersweet,” she said. “It is hard to see it come to a close. I have had the pleasure of running with some of the best talent in the WPIAL AAA girls division and have many lasting friends.

“It is very hard to leave my teammates and an excellent coaching staff that has mentored me since my middle school years.”


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