State Champ Runners Head to National Qualifier

The Foxes’ new PIAA girls’ cross country champs had barely calmed down after winning the state title when Coach Tom Moul called a year-end meeting. One of his items for discussion was an email from a race organizer who represented the Nike Cross Regionals Northeast Qualifier, who invited the team to participate in the event on November 25, in Wappingers Falls, New York.

“I thought they’d be tired from running so hard all season and would want a little bit of rest before indoor and outdoor track seasons start,” says Coach Moul, who recently also earned top honors as the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches’ Association (PTFCA) Girls’ Coach of the Year. “But they decided to go for it, and considering the character and determination of this group of girls, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.”

Members of the Fox Chapel Area High School gold-medal team are senior Caelan Miller; juniors Anna Folkerts, Sarena Seeger, and Annika Urban; and sophomores Isabelle Doerr, Brooke Krally, and Grace Sisson.

The team will have its work cut out for them when they run on the scenic but challenging 5K course located along the Hudson River in Bowdoin Park. Teams and individuals with the best times in the Northeast region, which includes Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, are invited to participate. Last year, 229 girls and 27 teams were signed up for the race. Only the top two teams will make it to nationals in Portland, Oregon, on December 5, a competition that serves as the unofficial nationwide championship event for U.S. high school cross country teams.

Grace, who has shown much promise in her first two years in the sport, says their decision to go was unanimous, even though they will leave the day after Thanksgiving and give up a lot of their vacation time.

“Regionals is just something we all really wanted to do, and Coach Moul told us he’d support us if we wanted to go,” says Grace, who comes from a family of runners – in fact, her oldest sister is a professional runner sponsored by New Balance – and often was a spectator at her three sisters’ big races. “Once we decided to go to New York, we started back where we left off with our training by doing some easy runs and then picking up the pace, and also doing interval training.”

In all, the team usually runs about 45 miles a week.

But running, let alone participating in such an elite event, wasn’t even on Grace’s radar and it wasn’t something she’d always dreamed about as a kid. She only started running after her family convinced her to give it a try.

“I never thought I’d be a runner, but after meeting the girls and competing with them, I found I just loved it and it was fun too,” says Grace. “Now, I’m just hoping to go out and perform the best I can and help the team get to nationals. We really hope to make it to nationals, but no matter what, we’ll still be happy we made it this far.”