Quarzo Sisters Enjoying Lone Year Together At Brownsville

Over the past two years, it hasn't been easy to keep pace with Gionna Quarzo, let alone outkick the Brownsville Area standout.

One runner who appears to have solved the problem is JoJo Quarzo, the younger sister of the two-time PIAA 3,200-meter champion.

Well, at least during training runs, that is.

"Sometimes, at the end of a run, she would be like, 'I'm a little tired' and I would try to sprint and pass her up," JoJo said of the lighthearted moments the sisters have shared during runs together. "We mess around and do stuff like that all the time."

The Quarzo sisters are off to a great start this fall, registering a pair of 1-2 finishes in key invitationals before stepping away from multi-team competitions the past two weekends.

"I'm happy to see that we've finished first and second every meet," Gionna said. "I wouldn't want anyone else behind me besides her. She runs with me all the time. We run together so she's my training partner."

Heading into the final weekend of September, Gionna has the No. 6 time in PA over 5,000 meters, while her sister checks in at No. 26 overall. JoJo also is the No. 3 freshman thus far in 2019.

The Quarzo sisters got their competitive start in swimming, with Gionna joining the Uniontown YMCA program when she was 6 and JoJo a year later when she was 4. Despite the early introduction to swimming, Gionna already was being pulled in another direction.

"I always wanted to run track because I saw the Olympics on TV, but I didn't really want to do cross country because I thought no one really did it, like who runs in the woods," Gionna said with a laugh. "I tried track and I really liked it and then I talked my mom into letting me do cross country."

Both sisters stayed connected with competitive swimming for almost a decade, with Gionna noting that she will compete in a few meets this year after stopping full-time involvement two years ago.

"Swimming really helped running a lot, especially with my breathing," Gionna, 17, said. "At the end of a race, I've noticed I'm not as out of breath as most people even though my legs do hurt. Running doesn't help swimming at all. It kind of made me slower after running for a while."

For JoJo, the switch from swimming was more recent.

"Swimming was my No. 1 sport for a while," JoJo, 14, said. "And then last year, I kind of stopped doing it because I wanted to take running more serious, but it's kind of like a side sport now."

With her older sister starting to excel in running, the move out of the pool almost was a given with JoJo.

"I always kind of wanted to do the same as my sister," the freshman said. "Watching her do amazing (things) just made me want to try it, too."

In addition to swimming, Gionna and JoJo both joined the WV Flyers distance club in nearby Morgantown, W.Va., with Gionna noting the importance of that decision to her recent development.

"After I saw that I got better after training with the Morgantown girls, I knew that I wanted to go further," she said of joining them in 2017. "I trained with them for one year, and I won states. So if I keep training with them, I can go even further.

"After this year when I ran a 10:25 (to win PIAAs again), I was really shocked. I think I can go faster this year. When I broke 11:00 (for the first time), it also was really shocking to me."

The Quarzo sisters and their Falcon teammates will return to their big meet schedule Saturday for the A.J. Everhart Invitational and Oct. 10 for the Fayette County meet, with both of those races on the Penn State Fayette campus outside Uniontown. On Oct. 24, it's back to their home-away-from-home course at California University and the WPIAL championships.

"We train at Cal U. a lot," JoJo said of an edge the sisters might have when the meet returns there next month. "We get to train the hills. We're really lucky to have the course right in our back yard practically."

Gionna has finished second to Quaker Valley's Annie Wicker in each of the past two District 7 XC finales after finishing a place ahead of her when the runners were freshmen.

The sisters know they have to continue to cut seconds off their PRs to keep pace with their Class AA competitors. So far this season, runners in AA literally have been burning up 5K courses everywhere in the Keystone state, with a pair of athletes from central Pennsylvania getting much of the attention. The Brownsville Area sisters know they will have their work cut out for them in Hershey.

"Obviously, Marlee (Starliper) and Taryn (Parks) are the top runners in Pennsylvania," JoJo said. "It's really cool to watch them run. Obviously, we're probably not going to be near them, but it motivates me to try to be how they are now when I turn that age."

With a recent open weekend, Gionna took the opportunity to hit the road for another official college visit. Her younger sister knows being the only Quarzo sister running for Brownsville Area in the fall of 2020 will be a difficult transition.

"It was really awesome (going 1-2) this year," JoJo said. "They were my first varsity races. It was really amazing. I didn't expect myself to come second in any of those. It was just cool to see me do pretty good at those meets.

 "I think it's going to be hard when she leaves for me to not have a training partner. I'm going to try to keep doing well so she's proud of me."