Pagano develops into All-American candidate in senior season
Sarah Pagano thought basketball was her calling. At that point, cross country was just a way to stay in shape for her favorite sport.
That is until she was cut from her high school basketball team at Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J. Then, cross country became something much more.
“I loved it, especially the team aspect and the whole runner’s lifestyle,” Pagano said.
It’s led her to Syracuse, where she is now in her last season with the Orange. Pagano was an All-Big East selection last year and is looking to earn All-American honors this season after coming in at 73rd with a time of 20:49 in the 2011 NCAA Championship.
The senior will lead the women’s team into the Dartmouth Invitational at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Hanover, N.H.
Pagano finished the 3,200-meter run in 10:29 at the state championship during her junior year of high school. She attracted national attention and received offers from Georgetown and Duke, among others.
But she chose Syracuse.
Pagano said the educational opportunities, the coaching staff and the team atmosphere made Syracuse a good fit for her.
SU head coach Chris Fox beams at how far she has come since her freshman season.
“She struggled a little bit as a freshman, as most freshman do, but she improved a ton,” Fox said. “She is for sure the team leader. She is our only real senior and probably the best runner on the team at this point.”
This season, Fox and Pagano’s former SU teammate Lauren Penney expect a big season out of the senior.
“I definitely think she can make All-American this year,” said Penney, who became the first woman in program history to be an All-American last year.
Penney believes Pagano can be the second because of her mental toughness.
“She is inspiring to me, she is one of the toughest people I know, and you can see it in her face when she’s running,” Penney said. “She’s giving it all she has.”
Penney recalls seeing Pagano running a 10K and never giving up, despite the obvious physical pain she was in. Penney said Pagano needs to display that determination to help lead SU this season.
Pagano sings the same song of praise about Penney.
“Lauren is a really great teammate and runner,” Pagano said. “I’m just hoping I can follow in her footsteps and do the same.”
Fox knows Pagano can do that. He said she doesn’t let her emotions get too high or too low. Pagano credits her tactful and grounded demeanor to her parents.
“My family has always been my biggest fans and supporters — never forced me to do anything but always been the best encouragement I could ask for,” she said.
The Pagano family tries to make it to as many races as possible. Her mother, Debbie Pagano, said her favorite race was the 2010 Big East Championship in Jamesville, N.Y., because the entire family was there to watch.
Pagano is enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences as a biochemistry major and nutrition minor. Upon graduation, Pagano wants to go to graduate school to be a physician’s assistant. She was also named to the All-Academic Team last year.
Her class work, which has allowed her to learn the significance of eating right, getting enough sleep and taking care of her body, translates directly to her success as a runner.
Whether or not she is an All-American, she’s treating this season just like every other.
“I don’t really look at it as a pressure thing, I will do anything I’ve done any other year,” Pagano said. “I think just trying to be a good teammate and friend to everyone, being someone that people can talk to, is good.”
Contact Melissa: email@example.com
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