HERSHEY — The girls’ cross country runners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy may not have qualified for the Class A state championship meet as a team, but they won it anyway — perhaps in the most unconventional way possible.
As a team, St. Joe’s failed to place first or second at the earlier District 6 championship meet.
And, those five girls — Kate Youngmark, Kathleen Steamer, Brandi Carmack, Maya Chappell and Camryn Eby — did not disappoint, winning the program’s third state crown and first since 2016. Their team score of 93 points bested second-place finisher, Wolves’ rival and defending state champion Marion Center, which scored 116 points.
“Every season is defined by so many things, much more than race results and trophies. These non-racing moments end up being some of the most memorable because those are the times that make the team like glue,” said St. Joe’s head coach Jayson Jackson. “And when you have a team strengthened by those times, the possibilities of what you can accomplish become endless.”
Jackson said running in arguably the best district in the state and having to face that tough, local competition all season, prepared the girls for their run in Hershey.
“Based on the season, I felt anything was possible,” Jackson told The Centre County Gazette. “We wanted to stay curious and keep an open mind while we competed.”
The Wolves were in the lead at the mile mark and didn’t look back, keeping a good pace throughout the race.
Kate Youngmark, a sophomore, led the pack and crossed the finish line in tenth place, earning her not only a medal, but also all-state recognition.
“This season was everything we could’ve asked for and more in my opinion. From big invites to recovery runs, we were all in it for each other,” she said. “Our positive family culture this year propelled us forward day in and day out. On the line at the state meet we were outnumbered, but we didn’t let that hold us back. The unorthodox path we took to Hershey fueled the fire for us girls, and we pulled through when it mattered most.”
Junior Kathleen Simander finished the race in the 43rd position. She said just like in other sports, the team had a handful of low points and at time, were unsure about how the season would turnout. She said the strong “love and commitment to each other” is what pulled them through.
“We knew we had the potential to be good, but I do not think we understood that we were ‘win a state title’ good,” Simander said. “When we stepped on the line there was obviously nerves, but the sense of calmness was settling. We stood on the line knowing that each other was willing to lay it all on the line for one another …The feeling was so unreal and I wouldn’t want to be standing on the podium with another group of girls.”
Three spots behind Simander was freshman Brandi Carmack.
“Knowing that my teammates are going out on the course and giving it their all for each other gives me the confidence to do the same for them,” she said. “The team has become my family this past season and that bond is what allows us to truly run for each other.”
Maya Chapell finished right behind Simander in the 47th position.
“This season has been incredible,” said the senior. “The whole team, both the boys and girls, has become like a family. We have bonded so much this season and have so many silly stories and inside jokes. I’m so grateful for my amazing coaches and each of the girls on my team. They have pushed me to be the best I can be and I’m going to miss them all next year.”
Junior Camryn Eby finished in the 57th spot.
“This 2019 season was defined by much more than the end result we achieved this past Saturday,” Eby said. “Without the constant laughs and inside jokes, we would not have become the close-knit team we are, who supported each other unconditionally at all times and furthermore used our family mindset to set us apart from others.”
Jackson said the girls’ success in 2019 is because of how the girls ran together — with pride, courage and, most importantly, love.
“They pushed each other each and every day to be their best selves,” he said. “They lifted each other when one was down and lifted other higher when they were up.”
The Lady Little Lions of State College also had a remarkable showing at the PIAA championships, placing second in the Class AAA division.
Freshman Marlee Kwasnica led the team with a 17th-place finish in a time of 19:09. She was followed by teammates Lizzie Gilpatrick (28th, 19:50), Jordan Reed (40th, 19:38), Elly Haushalter (107th, 20:27), Maggie Leahy (133rd, 20:46), Karsyn Kane (185th, 21:42) and Mihret Strauss (189th, 21:48).
“We’ve had our sights set on a top two podium finish since last year after taking third and we accomplished it in a big way today,” said State High coach Rebecca Donaghue. “The ladies have been putting the work in for this day over the past year and it certainly proved to pay off.”
Gazette intern Leeannn Stapleton contributed to this article.