By Pete Chiodo
Olivia Mamula and Reilly Walsh are sharing this year’s title as The Meadville Tribune’s 2012 Girls Cross Country Athletes of the Year. They shared the honor last season as well. There are a couple reasons for this. One, they’re both very good. And, two, they’re both very good in almost exactly equal measure.
Head coach Cathy Shader is right when she says you never, or at least very rarely, saw those two apart out on the course. In fact, they were often each others’ best competition. They were either first or second in every region tri-meet they ran in this year. And at invitationals or postseason races, one of them would often finish just barely in front of the other.
It got to the point where their places were marked by fractions of a second. For example, in the McDowell Invitational that opened the season, Walsh finished fifth in 20:44.10, Mamula was second in 20:44.90.
That wasn’t a one-time thing, either. At the Sharpsville Invite a few weeks later, Mamula was seventh in 20:05.50. Walsh was eighth in 20:05.80 — a blink-of-an-eye difference.
And, together, their year ended at the PIAA Class A championship race. Mamula was 16th in 20:28, Walsh was 17th in 20:29 — a one second difference. And this was on a course that plays to the two girls’ differing strengths and weaknesses in unique ways. Yet they both pushed the other, they both encouraged each other, and together they recorded the two best times at Hershey’s Parkview Course of any female runner from Crawford County this season.
This duo is just too good to break apart. So, for the second straight year in a row, Mamula and Walsh are our co-athletes of the year.
School: Cambridge Springs High School
Vitals: Mamula had a number of strong performances this season. Along with top-two finishes in each Region 3 tri-meet, she also put together some top-notch invitational runs. Some of her best finishes included sixth at the McDowell Invitational (20:44), fifth at West Middlesex (20:48), seventh at Sharpsville (20:05), eighth at Cochranton (20:12) and third at Rocky Grove (20:45). And her postseason showings were impressive indeed, including a second-place time at the Region 3 Invitational (20:11), an amazing District 10 title-winning run in the Class A final (20:40), and a Crawford County-best finish at the state meet, where she crossed the line in 20:28 to take 16th in Class A.
Season highlight: That is undoubtedly Mamula’s District 10 Class A title run. It was a brilliant finish. West Middlesex runner Kristen White was in the front of the pack for most of the race. But coming down the long final stretch of the Buhl Park course, Mamula got White in her sights. The Cambridge junior kicked it into high gear and caught up to the West Middlesex runner with mere yards to go. And just a few strides before the finish line, Mamula inched in front Big Reds runner and snapped the tape in 20:40, just a split-second before her competitor.
School: Cambridge Springs High School
Vitals: Along with notching numerous tri-meet wins in Region 3, Walsh also had a group of fantastic performances at area invitationals. She was fifth at the McDowell Invite (20:44), third at West Middlesex (20:32), eighth at Sharpsville (20:05), second at Cochranton (19:44) and fourth at Rocky Grove (20:52). Then to cap off a terrific year, Walsh won the Region 3 Invitational at Hydetown Elementary School in 20:04, added a fourth-place finish at the District 10 Class A championship (20:50) and then took 17th place at the PIAA championship race in Hershey.
Season highlight: Walsh’s postseason races were outstanding. She had a brilliant run in the Region 3 Invitational, coming in seven seconds ahead of her teammate, Mamula. Then she knocked off about 45 seconds from her 2011 time in the District 10 championship race to take fourth place in this year’s Class A run (up from 12th place in Class AA last season). Then she laid it all out for a 17th-place finish at the state meet, finishing the hilly course — not usually her forte — in 20:29, a full 30 seconds faster than her freshman run at Parkview last year.
What the coach says: About their differences: “The interesting thing we noticed is that on certain courses Reilly runs better and on other courses Olivia runs better. We can almost perfectly predict who will come in ahead of the other. Reilly seems to be better on the more rugged, hilly courses like Cochranton. Olivia does real well on flat courses. She has longer legs, can get a longer stride. That’s what made the difference at districts. When they were going into the finish, they were pretty close. But Olivia has a great stride, and that got her ahead.”
About the state meet: “Those girls, at states, they had a plan. They didn’t go out in front immediately. Those two knew exactly where to be at a mile, where to be at two miles. We kept count and for most of the race they were around 20th or 25th place. And they did a great job finishing. They were right there at the end. They passed five or six girls to get in the top 20 at the end. At states, they bonded together. They were going to stick together and do what they had to do.”
About being teammates: “They just work together at practice. (In the summer) they’re out there on the roads together. Their families are friends. It’s a good thing. There’s no bitter rivalry or anything like that. The girls are good competitors. They push each other. They will compete. They keep going back and forth. Olivia would have Reilly by five seconds, or Reilly would have Olivia by five seconds. You’d rarely see one without the other.” — Cathy Shader, Cambridge Springs head cross country coach.