Graduation hit the Abington Heights cross country team hard. Coach Mike Ludka said a class of 28 seniors was lost.
So far this season, however, a pair of freshmen are helping to fill the void.
Maia Arcangelo and Alex Duffy have emerged as the teams’ No. 2 runners.
At the Moravian Academy Lions Invitational in Bethlehem, Arcangelo was the Lady Comets’ second runner across the finish line behind teammate Abby Marion and eighth overall. Then in the Lackawanna League opener against Honesdale, Western Wayne and Forest City, she again was behind Marion and fourth overall.
Meanwhile, Duffy was behind teammate Gavin Ross and 25th overall at the Lions Invitational. He again followed Ross and was sixth overall in the Lackawanna League opener.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of change in our top kids,” Ludka said. “So to have two freshmen step in, as inexperienced as they are, running second for us has been a huge help.”
They didn’t come out of nowhere; Ludka knew the pair would be good. Last year, Duffy won the Vince Fedor Lackawanna League Junior High Championships boys race and Arcangelo took fourth in the girls race.
What has surprised the coach, though, is how quickly they have made an impact.
“It’s one thing to be second on the team,” Ludka said. “But they’re second on the team running against some great competition and holding their own. They’re up there with some of the best around.”
Both runners are pleasantly surprised by their early success.
“I worked hard over the summer, so I’m pretty excited about how I’m doing so far,” Arcangelo said. “I still have a lot to improve. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Added Duffy: “I’ve tried to stick the kids above me who have more experience. I’ve been giving it my best effort. I trained all summer, put forth the miles and am doing the best I can.”
Soccer was Arcangelo’s original sport. She was a midfielder, so she did already a lot of running.
Then she participated in “Girls On The Run,” a nonprofit organization that encourages preteen girls to develop healthy lifestyles through running. The program culminates in a 5K race, which Arcangelo won.
“So I thought maybe I should pursue running,” she said. “I tried it in seventh grade and I did really well. So I kept building from there.”
Duffy started running in fifth grade when he did his first 5K and has been going since.
Perhaps the toughest adjustment they’ve had to make going from the junior high to the varsity level has been the additional miles. But both Arcangelo and Duffy said their veteran teammates have been helpful.
“They’re helping me with the runs and if I have any questions about the course,” Duffy said. “They’re helping me strategize certain parts of the course. They’ve been great mentors.”
Ludka said Arcangelo and Duffy are very disciplined for their age.
“They run their miles, put a smile on their face about it, are happy to be at practice,” Ludka said. “They compete each day with everyone around them, won’t back down from anybody. But they’re respectful of the older kids and want to learn from them. They’re two great kids to have.”
And, since they’re only freshmen, Abington Heights will have Arcangelo and Duffy for the next four years, which bodes well for the future.
“They will be kids to watch out for,” Ludka said. “They’re really confident in their future. Not to put pressure on them. But they want to be good and they’re working like they want to be good.”
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