Quaker Valley cross country builds strong program with youth, experience

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Sunday, October 25, 2020 | 11:01 AM


First-year Quaker Valley Cross Country coach Ryan Kelly had the opportunity to see his runners make improvements from afar in recent years.

Now, Kelly gets to see it first-hand.

After spending time as the middle school cross country coach, Kelly took over the program, and it has fared well behind a large group of seniors and freshmen, as well as a few juniors and sophomores mixed in.

“We have two strong teams that I’m just very proud of their effort and how well they’ve done with their training,” said Kelly, a history teacher at the middle school. “We have a very strong senior class, which is always helpful and I’m very appreciative to have a class like that with their leadership. They are very motivated and very encouraging of one another. They are reaching out and helping the freshman class.”

The Quakers have been led by senior captain Nick Pascarella. He placed 10th in the Class AA race at the annual Red, White, Blue Classic on Sept. 19 in 17 minutes, 5 seconds.

Less than a month later, Pascarella placed second behind Northern Bedford’s Ian Zimmerman at the P3R River Trail Invitational at Boston Trail in Clairton. Pascarella covered the 5,000-meter course in 16:21.36.

Last season, Pascarella placed 50th at the Red, White, Blue Classic in 18:50.0.

“With track season getting cut short, Nicky has really spent every day since the pandemic started in March being focused on training,” Kelly said. “He’s been working tirelessly every day, and with a sport like cross country, you have to put in that time to be successful.

“So it’s not only what he did in the spring but throughout the summer and also serving as that leader by example. He’s a vocal leader as well, but he’s set the tone for our entire team to really invest in their training and value what they need to do day-in and day-out.”

Junior Anna Cohen has been a standout throughout high school. She placed fifth at the P3R River Trail Invitational in 19:33.6. As a freshman, she was ninth at the WPIAL championships, and last season, she placed 15th.

“She’s our female captain, and she’s always there to lead our girls team,” Kelly said. “She’s almost like an assistant coach in a way, and she’s such an intelligent runner. We raced Avonworth at North Catholic recently, and Anna ran one of the most intelligent races that I have ever seen. That cerebral aspect really sets her apart.”

With two older runners such as Pascarella and Cohen, Kelly has the pieces in place to build up the program and help the younger runners develop the right mindset for the sport.

“Seeing the development in some of these kids from the middle school level up is huge,” Kelly said. “I’ve known some of these kids since they were in third or fourth grade, and to see them now as freshman or seniors or juniors is really cool. To see all of that development gives a lot of excitement to not only myself, but to the community and the returning runners.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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