Plum runner pleased after claiming medal at PIAA meet
Last year, Jake Susalla came to the PIAA cross country championships wanting to make an impact, but nagging leg issues hampered his efforts on the Hershey Giant Center Complex course, and he had to drop out before he could complete the 3.1-mile run.
But he knew he had another shot at it this year as a junior, and the goal of a state medal was on his mind and within his grasp.
With healthier legs supporting a determined body, Susalla set out to accomplish his goal Saturday in the Class AAA boys race.
When it was all said and done, Susalla had what he was looking for: a state medal and a little redemption.
Susalla placed 17th overall with a time of 16:17, nine seconds better than his third-place WPIAL time of 16:26.
“I came here wanting a medal and I achieved that goal,” Susalla said.
“I knew the race would be fast, I wanted to go out in the middle of the pack and work my way up. I’ve never raced well here, but I ran the hills well.”
Susalla was tied for 53rd after a first-mile time of 4:57.
Then then hills started, and Susalla made his move.
He worked his way through the throng of runners and was 19th after the second mile.
He then grabbed two more places to finish 17th.
“My time would have been good for eighth place last year,” Susalla said.
“The competition was very strong.”
Head coach Joe Ionta and assistant coach Tony Morinello helped Susalla with a game plan to tackle the PIAA course, and it worked for Susalla, who ran at states for the third consecutive year.
“The purpose was to go into the race with a good strategy,” Ionta said.
“He needed to get out well and be ready when the hills started. The course is flat for the first 200 yards, and then it’s downhill for a quarter of a mile. The first mile is very quick. Then you hit some hills very similar to the course at Boyce.
“Jake is a great competitor, one of the best we’ve ever had at Plum, and he ran a great race. He passed some 30 guys in the front pack. He handled the final mile well to maintain his position. There were four to six people right within his time frame, so it showed some great competitiveness to finish the way he did.”
The winner, junior Jake Brophy from Central Bucks East in District 1, finished with a time of 15:24, 14 seconds faster than the runner-up.
North Allegheny’s Matt McGoey, a senior, was the WPIAL’s top finisher in fourth (15:47). Tigers senior Hunter Wharrey took eighth (15:52).
They went 1-2 ahead of Susalla at WPIALs, and Susalla was the third finisher from the WPIALs at the PIAA meet.
“He did exactly what we wanted him to do in preparation,” Ionta said.
“The best is yet to come for him. He was the seventh underclassmen to finish. He’s in great shape for another big run as a senior. Jake can be proud of his accomplishments so far, and I know he’s already thinking about next year.”
Plum junior Rachel Valotta ran at states for the first time, and she was the first female Mustangs runner to compete at states since the late Rachel Twigg qualified in 2003.
Valotta was 93rd after the first mile (5:59), and she slipped back to 105th after mile two. But she made up 10 spots over the final mile and finished 95th with a time of 20:09.
Her PIAA time was two seconds slower than her WPIAL 20th-place finish (20:07).
“Sometimes you have to get there first and experience everything before you are able to do big things,” Ionta said.
“That course at states is a much more demanding course. It was one of the coldest days of the year, and there was a strong headwind. WPIALs was close to perfect weather, but a little windy. Both Jake and Rachel had impressive runs, and we’re very proud of both of them. They will come back strong for track in the spring and for cross country in the fall.”
The WPIAL had two individual champions and two team winners.
Shaler senior Brianna Schwartz won the Class AAA girls, and Vincentian Academy sophomore Marianna Abdalah won the Class A girls.
North Allegheny boys were the Class AAA team champion and Winchester Thurston boys took the Class A title.
Trib Total Media staff writer Paul Schofield contributed to this report.
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.