Brownsville’s Jolena Quarzo defends 1,600-meter title at PIAA track championships

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Friday, May 26, 2023 | 4:43 PM


SHIPPENSBURG — Brownsville’s Jolena Quarzo decided to skip more races than usual in her senior year, but this wasn’t a case of senioritis.

She was just focused on states.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to do too much, get myself tired, burnt out or even get hurt,’” she said. “So I was like, ‘If you can just train really hard throughout the season and you have good workouts and focus on WPIALs and states,’ that was the most important thing for me.”

Quarzo said she rarely competed in the 1,600 meters this season, yet outran the field by more than 5 seconds Friday to defend her PIAA Class 2A title at Seth Grove Stadium.

She finished in 4 minutes, 55.45 seconds.

“I don’t think of the 1,600 as my main event,” she said, “but I did win it last year, so it was important.”

The N.C. State recruit will try to become a three-time state champion in the 3,200 meters Saturday, maybe adding a sixth gold to her PIAA medal collection. She won a PIAA cross country title last fall.

Her and sister Gionna have combined to win the past four 3,200-meter titles.

Gionna Quarzo, now a junior at N.C. State, was a two-time PIAA champion in the event in 2018-19. But at that time, the PIAA championship schedule had the 1,600 and 3,200 finals on the same day, making it much harder to run both events.

“We joke with each other,” Jolena Quarzo said. “She says, ‘I didn’t get to do the 1,600 on a different day.’ I would be mad if I was her, too, if they just switched it up her last year.”

The PIAA has since eliminated the 1,600-meter preliminary heats.

Now, the 1,600 final is the first event on Friday, and the 3,200 meters is the first event Saturday. That allowed Quarzo almost 24 hours to recuperate.

“I’m just going to cool down, stretch a lot, just rest my legs up, pretty much,” Quarzo said. “I think it’s nice being done so early. I get to relax the rest of the day.”

Her time Friday was 10 seconds faster than her winning mark at the WPIAL championships a week earlier. But for the first two laps Friday, a scoreboard malfunction had her questioning just how fast she was running.

“My first lap I passed (the scoreboard) and was like, ‘Crap! You didn’t look at the clock!’” Quarzo said. “So the second lap I’m coming around and it says zeroes. I’m like, ‘What?’”

As a runner with few peers, the clock is her best motivation. Her personal-best in the 1,600 meters was 4:51.31, a time she ran last winter in indoor season.

“I kind of wish I saw the clock to see if I could’ve run faster,” she said. “My goal was to run a little bit faster, but I’m still happy with it, for sure.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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