Ricky and Marci Quarzo have undoubtedly put some considerable mileage on their vehicles over the past eight years.
Considering the amount of time their daughters, Gionna and Jolena, spent atop WPIAL and PIAA podiums, it is easy to see why.
Gionna began the Quarzo sisters’ tenure at Brownsville High School nearly eight years ago when she won two PIAA track championships. Jolena continued her family’s winning trend over the past four, with Gionna running at North Carolina State, as she went on to win five PIAA track titles and another cross country crown.
“We are pretty close,” Jolena said.
The Quarzo sisters are even more so nowadays.
Gionna, a senior at N.C. State, is now accompanied on the No. 1-ranked, two-time defending NCAA champion Wolfpack cross country team by Jolena, who began her freshman season on the Raleigh campus in August.
“It’s really cool,” Gionna said. “It’s fun having her around. It’s nice that my family gets to come to the same places to watch us run.”
Laurie Henes — director of N.C. State track and field and cross country, who is also the head coach of the women’s program — is enjoying having the Quarzo family around as well.
“They’re the best, and their family is awesome,” Henes said.
Henes said she recalled first meeting Jolena “as a middle schooler that was tagging along,” while recruiting Gionna.
“Even from the first couple of times we met JoJo in that process, we could kind of tell she has it at this level, too,” Henes said. “I think, for us, we are fortunate they both want to be on the team together. I know that their parents are thrilled because they can come to the same place at the same time.
“They’re both just super hard workers, super dedicated to what they’re doing.”
For Gionna, that began immediately upon her arrival at N.C. State.
“Gionna made a very smooth transition for us,” Henes said. “She was part of a class that had quite a few superstars coming in at the same time, and G maybe adjusted as well as anyone in that whole class.”
Henes said Gionna’s leadership and her ability to adapt to adding higher mileage in her training were critical in helping her become a strong distance runner at the Atlantic Coast Conference level. She added that Gionna’s attitude beginning with her time as a freshman has also paid dividends.
“Gionna definitely does like the longer distances,” Henes said. “We almost never run freshmen in a 10K, and Gionna talked me into it somehow. We have very slowly increased her mileage, and I think those things will kind of help her make that next jump.”
A five-time All-ACC performer, Gionna also qualified for the NCAA East Regional meet in 2021 and 2022. She also ran a time of 33:46.78 in the 10K at the 2022 NCAA outdoor championships, which was good for 16th place and an All-American selection.
“It’s crazy to think that I’m a senior now,” said Gionna, who is planning to take a fifth year of eligibility as a graduate student in 2024. “I look back on my previous years, and I’m really proud of all the accomplishments I’ve had, especially in track. I couldn’t really see how far I’ve grown until now. Hopefully these next two years, I continue to keep growing and achieve my goals.”
Henes said Gionna should enter this season with some motivation.
After running the 10K in 33:13.15 to finish second at the ACC outdoor championships in the spring, Gionna failed to qualify for the NCAA championships by one spot.
“I’d like to see is her be able to stay healthy, stay consistent,” Henes said. “If she does that, the sky is the limit for her.”
Gionna said she is looking toward contributing to a third consecutive NCAA cross country championship and building upon her indoor and outdoor track success.
“I really just want to enjoy my time here, especially with the girls,” she said. “Obviously, I don’t want to jinx us, but I think that our level this year is just as good as last year.”
And that certainly includes her sister.
Henes said it is too early in the season to decide if Jolena will redshirt this season, but regardless she expects the freshman to contribute to N.C. State’s success in cross country and once the indoor and outdoor track seasons begin.
“JoJo has very seamlessly adjusted and seems well within herself,” Henes said. “I think it is a good sign how easily G was able to adjust and make those big jumps, that I believe JoJo will be able to do the same thing.
“They’re not the same runner for sure,” Henes added. “There are going to differences, different events.”
While Gionna has pushed hard to compete in the 10K, the longest event in NCAA competition, Henes said Jolena will most likely not follow her sister’s path in that regard.
“I told her the goal is to just adjust to everything we are doing, get a little faster, get a little stronger and then we will kind of make the racing decisions down the road,” Henes said.
And that’s just fine by Jolena. She said she has enjoyed the early stages of making the jump to ACC competition — not to mention the top cross country team in the country.
“I have to say being on this team, even for just a couple of weeks so far, obviously there’s a little bit of pressure, but we also don’t like to focus on things that were previous.
“Obviously the team wants to win nationals, but our goal is just really to improve as a team and individually.”
Jolena said she is poised to replicate the success she had at the PIAA level with the Wolfpack.
And motivate her sister a little bit along the way as well.
“I think we definitely push each other a lot,” Jolena said. “She’s always been faster than me, but I think seeing that she has a younger sister on the team, it’ll definitely push her a little bit. It pushes me, too.”