Independence’s cross country teams are headed back to regionals.
Led by sophomore Tyler Polman, who won his second straight district crown, the boys’ team won back the district title and senior Ashley Pucella finished seventh to pace the girls’ team to a second place finish behind Gilmour Academy.
“Overall, I was happy with our performance,” said Independence coach Craig Polman. “For the boys, it was good to win back the district crown. We had won it five years in a row and last year we got beat and now we went out and earned it back.”
Independence’s boys’ team won district titles in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 before finishing second to Gilmour Academy last season.
Polman, who finished in 16:35.68, edged Black River’s Tanner Hawley by just over one second after finishing second to Hawley earlier this season by the same margin.
“I think Tyler got good payback with that Black River kid,” coach Polman said. “They had faced off two weeks ago on the same course and that kid beat him by one second. It was a back and forth battle. They were right with each other until there was about 400 meters to go and Tyler ended up outkicking him at the end.”
The rest of the Blue Devils also turned in strong performances despite the soggy conditions.
“It was kind of typical cross country type of weather. It was windy, wet and dreary but that’s what we’ve been doing the past six or seven years is running well in that type of weather,” coach Polman said. “We had some pretty strong finishes for the majority of the team. I still need to get my No. 4 and No. 5 closer to my No. 2 and No. 3.”
Juniors David Wisniewski (17:41.36) and Colin Jedrzejek (17:44.35) finished in seventh and eighth place for the Blue Devils. Seniors Adam Anielski (18:05.11) and Shane Mathew (18:17.41) came in 12th and 17th place, respectively.
“Tyler and that kid from Black River really broke away from the field but everyone after that was pretty tight,” Polman said. “I thought our No. 2 and No. 3, David Wisniewski and Colin Jedrzejek was pretty good. It wasn’t the sort of day for personal records. The course is pretty flat but it was wet and I haven’t really seen fast times run on that course.”
Senior Ethan Blaze (18:57.16) finished 34th and junior Matt Mroczynski (19:27.94) was 43rd.
“Ethan Blaze, our No. 6 man, he ran a pretty strong race,” Polman said. “He didn’t really take a scoring spot for us but he was probably closer to his personal best than anybody else on the team.”
The girls’ team got a boost from sophomore Dana Zaccardelli, who ran for the first time this season after recovering from an injury.
“This really was our first meet all season we’ve been at full strength; maybe not full strength in terms of conditioning, but at least all the runners at the starting line, which was good,” Polman said. “We probably would have been in a close fight for second without Dana but she’s a difference maker out there. If healthy she should have been fighting for the district crown but finishing 13th certainly helped.”
Ashley Pucella led the Blue Devils with a seventh place finish in 20:59.66. Twin sister Amanda Pucella was 11th (21:47.57) and Zaccardelli was 13th (22:12.16). Sophomore Maria Sagi rounded out the top four for Independence with a 15th place finish in 22:16.85.
“Ashley finished seventh at the district meet but she’s going to need a stronger race next week if she wants to be in position to qualify as an individual if the team doesn’t make it out, but I think she really closed the gap on the runners ahead of her,” Polman said. “I think she’s kind of believing in herself a little more and I think she’s kind of motivated that opportunity might be there to qualify as an individual for the state meet. Maria and Dana continued to come back from their injuries with fairly strong performances considering how much training they have in.”
Sophomore Nicole Zaccardelli (23:27.45) was 27th, freshman Kim Rega (24:32.92) was 43rd and sophomore Lauren Taras (25:07.61) finished 51st.
“Nicole has had a little bit of a rough season,” Polman said. “She’s not running as fast as she raced last year. She was our No. 5 (on Saturday) but the thing that really stood out for me is I could see them cutting across toward the finish line. She has great endurance but not really good speed, but she was moving across the last 50 meters as fast as I’ve ever seen her move. She was No. 5 and that was a key position for us. I like the fact that I saw her really moving fast for her ability and running hard and strong and pushing it even though you’re pretty fatigued by that point.”
The Regional Meet will be held on Saturday at Boardman High School in Youngstown.