SALEM-Two things stood out watching South Range sophomore Mollie Pierson compete in the 3200 run at Saturday's Division II district track meet. The first was the gaping distance between herself and the field. The other was the smile that never came off her face.
"That's Mollie," South Range coach Diane Krumpak said. "She just loves to run,"
Pierson and her teammates had plenty of reasons to smile on Saturday as the Raider girls team captured its first district title since 2001 with 113 points, beating out West Branch with 108. Salem came in third with 82.
"Normally in district meets we are just focused on getting as many athletes as we can to advance to regionals," Krumpak said. "If a district title or district runner-up happens to fall in our lap, so be it. In no way did we expect to win today. "
Making the Raiders triumph doubly impressive was the fact that the South Range girls are competing in Division II this year after competing at Division III most of the time.
"It was a whole lot of fun to go against the girls from West Branch and Salem today," Pierson said. "They are bigger schools that we don't go against a whole lot. We had no fear coming in today as a team. It doesn't matter what division you are, you still have to run hard."
Pierson was front and center with wins in the 3200 run (12:00.66) and 1600 run (5:22.00).
The top four finishers in each event advance to next week's regional meet at Austintown Fitch's Falcon Stadium.
Pierson was bested in both distance events by United's Allison Parks in last week's ITCL upper tier meet, but didn't have to contend with her friendly rival Saturday as the Eagles were competing in the Division II district meet at Lakeview.
"I didn't see her today, but I know I'll see her next week," Pierson said. "Allison's so much fun to run against. I can't wait to go against her again."
Pierson had company in the distance events as Xena Maali took fourth in the 1600 (5:33.47) and Matti Dunham finished fourth in the 3200 (12:19.92).
South Range was also powered by two wins from senior Raianne Mason, who won the 100 hurdles (16.52) and the 300 hurdles (47.28).
Mason continues to focus on avenging her fifth place finish in the 300 at last year's regional meet.
"I want to make it to state so bad, and this is the next step," Mason said. "The 300 is by far my strongest event, and I think I am ready this year."
Mason was excited about the Raiders move to Division II because it meant she avoided Warren JFK's Morgan Rice-who finished fourth in the state 300 hurdles last year-in the Division III district. Rice set meet records in both hurdles finals at Springfield High School on Friday.
"I actually thought I had more of a chance to win this race," Mason said. "Next week will be tough, but I am ready."
Mason was joined in the 300 hurdles by teammate Mackenzie Ferenchak, who finished fourth (49.79).
After the race, Mason's legs began cramping up, costing her a chance to try and get the Raiders 1600 relay team to regionals.
Senior Elaina Kimpel replaced Mason and served as the anchor. The Raiders qualified third, but faded to fifth in the last leg of the race even though Kimpel ran her fastest split of the year.
"I ran the 1600 a lot of the year and was ready to go," Kimpel said. I'm very proud of the way I ran, it was just a really tough race."
"Elaina ran great," Pierson said. "I'm really proud of how she stepped in there. "We would have loved to have the 1600, but we advanced in a lot of other events. I'm so proud of the whole team."
The South Range 800 relay team of Gina Bellotta, Emily Moretti, Kameron Hobbs and Mason finished third (1:51.74), while Emily Moretti took fourth in the long jump (16-7) and Gina DeRose placed third in the 200 dash (27.44).