REEDSVILLE — There is an old black and white photo of former Penn State track and field legend Kathy Mills Parker taped to a white board in the State College Little Lady Lions locker room. The photo displays Mills, the picture of determination, teeth clinched, brow furrowed, spittle flying, on her way to the 1978 5,000-meter national championship.
It’s an image emblematic of Lady Little Lion coach Rebecca Donaghue’s mantra that she asked each runner to keep in mind as they ran – “attack.”
“You can just see it in her face,” Donaghue said. “Her expression is literally attacking ... and a lot of times girls maybe they don’t take themselves to that level, but this woman did.”
The Little Lady Lions used that imagery to win their 11th consecutive District 6 Class AAA girls' cross-country championship Saturday at Indian Valley Elementary and Intermediate School. The team qualified for the PIAA Championships in Hershey on Nov. 3.
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Junior Emma Cousins, who won the meet in 19 minutes, 40 seconds, described the 3.1-mile course as flat and the overcast weather as perfect, but no matter how idyllic the conditions, Cousins painted a picture of the harsh pain she had to endure in order to win.
“Your legs just feel tight, or sometimes like Jell-O,” said Cousins. “And sometimes it feels like you can’t breathe, your mouth gets dry, and a lot of times you doubt yourself and that’s why it’s such a mental sport…our coach tells us to think of one word the entire race and so you just have to do that and it takes away every negative thought you have.”
Penns Valley sophomore Alyssa Limbaugh qualified for the PIAA Class A meet by finishing fourth in 20:11.
Nothing could stop the State College girls from continuing their reign in the district. Senior Hannah Grubb (19:53), freshman Sarah Almarzooqi (19:55), junior Hannah Catalano (19:58) and freshman Natasha Fedkina (20:12) finished second through fifth, respectively. Junior Kaelyn Yoder (20:17) and sophomore Emily Sausman (20:40) placed seventh and 11th, respectively.
“The beginning of the race was really nice because I got to run with my team the entire time,” Cousins said. “And that just takes away the pain because you know you’re in it together.”
Minutes after she won the race, Cousins was on the phone with her father, Todd, who couldn’t attend because he was at another event. Cousins’ older sister, Alyssa, is on the Juniata College cross-country team and was competing in a 6K at the 2012 Landmark Cross Country Championships in Altoona.
“He was excited but really frustrated that he couldn’t be here for me,” Cousins said. “But he was there for my sister because she needs that too.”
Cousins, who ran her best time of the season, wants to be an early elementary school teacher, and also wants to run in college like her sister, though she hasn’t decided where just yet.
Juniata College’s schedule appears open Nov. 3, so Cousins’ father might be able to make it to Hershey for the state finals.
“I’m so excited,” Cousins said. “It’s always a party on the van ride down. We try to get the nerves out by singing and it’s just great team bonding. Then the next morning hits and it’s nerves all over again but you just have to push through that 20 minutes and then it’s like a weight is lifted off you.”
The play list for the van ride down will be reserved exclusively for Taylor Swift’s new album “Red.” This will be Cousins third time traveling to PIAAs and on every trip Swift’s music is always the official soundtrack.
The soft, innocent melodies of Swift juxtapose sharply with the imagery of an intense, black and white photo of a snarling Kathy Mills Parker. But coach Donaghue hopes it will work one more time.
“I think attacking describes it pretty well and that was our word for today,” Donaghue said. “And that might be our word for Saturday, too.”
No local runners advanced in Class AA. Bellefonte junior Alexis Franks (14th, 21;39) and freshman Anya Hoaglund (19th, 21:52) led the county finishers. Saint Joseph Catholic Academy was led by Paige Bennett (34th, 24:00). Bellefonte (163) placed sixth as Somerset (56) won the class.
Penns Valley junior Emma Federinko (21:41) was 18th in Class A as the Lady Rams (164) placed sixth. Maddie Cingle (23:00) was 34th for Bald Eagle Area, which was 11th (310). Central Cambria (33) won the class.