It was a season like no other for the Cambridge Springs girls cross country team. The Lady Blue Devils were a perfect 8-0 against their Region 3 opponents, securing their first-ever region title.
First-year head coach Cathy Shader was quick to credit her seniors — Lacey Lobdell, Abby Friel and Lennea Mook — with building the program to its current state.
“It was a pretty exciting year for me, having this great girls team,” she said. “It took years to develop. All the girls that were seniors, it was a four-year adventure for them. They had to climb the ladder all four years to get to this point.”
So, it was Cambridge Springs’ seniors that brought the team to the mountain.
But it was a pair of underclassmen that got the Blue Devils to the summit.
Those two underclassmen were sophomore Olivia Mamula and freshman Reilly Walsh. And, really, it was too difficult to pick just one of them as the Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
So, they’re sharing the title for 2011.
Why was it so tough to separate the two?
Well, it’s because those two girls seemed to take turns leading the Blue Devils with surprising regularity.
For instance, to start the year, the Lady Devils finished eighth at the McDowell Invitational. Mamula was sixth overall, seven seconds ahead of Walsh who finished 17th.
But then at the Big Red Invitational at West Middlesex the following weekend, it was Walsh placing fourth, leading Mamula, in fifth, by two seconds.
Mamula then edged Walsh during invitational meets at Penn State-Behrend and Sharpsville. But then Walsh beat Mamula during the Cochranton Invitational and the Rocky Grove Invitational.
Walsh kept up the hot streak with a first-place finish at the Region 3 Invitational, leading the Lady Devils to a second-place finish. Mamula finished second overall.
But then Mamula finished the season strong, leading the Blue Devils with an eighth place finish at the District 10 Class AA championship meet (earning her second trip to states in the process), and then leading the Crawford County contingent at the state championship meet with a 51st-place finish.
Walsh also ran well in both postseason races, qualifying for states with a 12th-place finish at districts, then adding a 58th-place time at Hershey the following week.
This was why it was so tough to pick one girl as the athlete of the year. They both played integral roles in the most successful season to date for the Cambridge Springs girls program.
“It’s a close tie between Reilly Walsh and Olivia Mamula,” Shader admitted. “They kind of flip-flopped back and fourth this season.”
Was there certain conditions that one runner ran better than the other. Not really, said Walsh.
“It depended on which one had more determination and more energy at the end of the race,” said the freshman.
Did this weekly back-and-forth turn into a heated rivalry for the girls? Maybe a tiny bit, said Mamula.
“There was a little bit of competition,” she said. “My goal at districts was to try to beat her. But on my end it was just do my best and see what happens.”
Mainly, though, both girls said this year was about running hard and enjoying a successful season with all of their teammates.
“Yeah, it was a really fun year,” said Walsh. “I’m glad with all the results.”
Said Mamula, “It was a lot of fun with all of the seniors. We had a really tight group. We were all trying to stick together and push ourselves together.”
Added Shader, “It was a huge year for the team. They were all such great workers and runners. The team spirit was phenomenal.”