BRANDYWINE HUNDRED — Saint Mark’s girls cross country team arrived at Brandywine Creek State Park on Nov. 13 having won the Catholic Conference and New Castle County championship meets, but the prize they craved was still 3.1 miles away.
To get there, the seven Spartans and the other runners would have to navigate not only Brandywine Creek’s notorious hills, but a steady rain and whipping winds that made it feel much colder than it was. When it was over, the Spartans were the school’s first cross country state champion since 2006.
Tiffany Herrera led the Spartans with a second-place finish behind Brynn Crandell of Indian River. She was the individual champion last year but was fine trading that for team glory.
“It’s more important to win as a team than individually, so I’m really excited. It’s been our goal since our freshman year. We’re so excited,” she said.
Tiffany and her twin sister Stephanie wrapped up their outstanding high school cross country careers in style. Stephanie came in fifth. Their other scorers were Kaileigh Brady (16th), Emma Manley (18th) and Marissa Cirillo (20th). Their total of 61 points was enough to defeat second-place Ursuline, the team that had relegated Saint Mark’s to second place the last two years.
To get there, they battled the elements. Several runners crossed the finish line covered with mud because they fell on the slippery track, including two Spartans.
“I felt like it was really hard on the turns, and it was really hard to see because it was raining so much. But honestly, it made the race a little bit more interesting, so it was more fun,” Tiffany Herrera said.
Spartans coach Mike DiGennaro was an assistant to longtime coach Joe O’Neill on that 2006 squad. In addition to second-place finishes the past two years and third place in 2018, the Spartans were also runners-up in Division I from 2009-11. He said this year was the culmination of a buildup that began with the arrival of the Herrera twins three seasons ago and co-captain Natalie Donaldson two years ago.
‘We kept picking kids up along the way,” he said. “We’ve been talking about needing to get more depth. We really had an army. We had 13 girls training for states.”
Donaldson said the Spartans knew they ran well at Brandywine Creek, but the wait for the results to become official was trying.
“I didn’t want to jinx it and assume that we (won),” she said.
Donaldson said the girls train all over the area in order to test themselves. The payoff was great.
“It’s just amazing. I’m just so happy for everyone,” she said.
DiGennaro said he didn’t get much sleep the night before the state meet. He said the coaches and runners tried to keep an even keel and wanted to look at the state championship as one more meet.
“But I think the girls had a feeling that we had a shot,” he said.
Stephanie Herrera said she is “sad that this is my last high school race, but I’m happy we won. I’m glad I’ll be doing this in college.” She and her sister have committed to the University of Delaware.
Stephanie Herrera also saw a potential bonus for bringing home the hardware.
“I think we’ll get a day off.”
Just behind the Spartans, it was another stellar performance by Ursuline. The Raiders had one top-10 finisher in Ava Lindia, who came in eighth. Facing a strong challenge from Conrad Schools of Science, the Raiders’ other scorers bunched together between 17th and 24th place to take second place.
Archmere sophomore Maddie Priest led the Auks, who finished fifth.
All photos by Mike Lang.