Confidence high for Plum girls cross country team

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Monday, October 14, 2019 | 6:28 PM


The Plum girls cross country team already was having a productive season when it arrived at the Division I, Section 4 championship meet Oct. 2 at Northmoreland Park.

The Mustangs took second at the season-opening Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park, won the Kiski Area Invitational at Northmoreland Park before faring well at the PIAA Foundation meet in Hershey.

But senior Angela Valotta said it was their runner-up finish at the section meet that really kickstarted the stretch run of their season toward the WPIAL championships Oct. 24 at Cal (Pa.).

Oakland Catholic was the dominant winner that day, but Plum edged defending champion Fox Chapel for second by three points.

“That made us really happy because Fox Chapel is a very strong team. It was a great team effort,” said Valotta, who finished fourth individually.

“We felt very accomplished,” said junior Livia Paoletti, who took eighth at the section meet. “We achieved what we wanted to do and felt we could do. We worked really hard for that.”

The team is looking forward to WPIALs. The top six from last year’s 26th-place squad were underclassmen. Three were freshmen.

A couple of new pieces have added depth.

“The girls have a shot, if they all run their best races, to crack the top 10 at WPIALs,” Plum coach Adam Molinaro said. “They’ve been running so well as a team and dropping time along the way. From the moment they took second (at the Gateway Invite), they knew this was a special group of athletes who could do some good things. They’ve continued to see that the hard work is paying off.”

Valotta, a college recruit who is looking at schools such as Grove City, Seton Hill, St. Francis (Pa.) and Duquesne, ran under 20 minutes for the first time in her career at the Grove City Invitational on Oct. 5.

She finished in 19:42 and placed 12th in a deep field that included top runners from District 10’s Fairview, as well as North Catholic, South Fayette, Knoch, Northgate, Shaler and Vincentian.

“That really boosted my confidence,” said Valotta, who hopes to return to states for the first time since qualifying as a freshman in 2016.

“My training has been going really well, and my races have been showing that.”

Plum placed third of 15 teams at Grove City. South Fayette was first, and Knoch was second.

In addition to Valotta and Paoletti, sophomores Ashley Persia, Sydney Anderson and Alex George; junior Alexandra Steinagle; and freshman Maddie Bevacqua have contributed this season.

“We all have high expectations going into WPIALs,” Valotta said.

Many WPIAL schools, including Plum, will get an early look at the Cal U Roadman Park course at Thursday’s Tri-State meet.

“It’s good to be able to get a feel for the course and pick out your strategy,” Valotta said.

In a similar format to WPIALs, there will be boys and girls races for Class A, AA and AAA. The first race begins at 1 p.m.

Nearly 70 schools will have runners compete.

“The whole group except for Maddie has run on the course,” Molinaro said. “They know what to expect and what challenges the Cal U course presents. We’ve been running well on some pretty tough courses all season.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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