---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
Looking at her achievements over the past year, you could say Mount Carmel junior Ali Varano got better with time.
She was named a Daily Item second-team all-star soccer player in the fall. That was followed by a first-team honor in the winter for her skill on the hardwood. Then came the female Track Athlete of the Year award just a month ago.
So perhaps it's no surprise that after a stellar junior year where she excelled in three different sports, Varano, daughter of Mount Carmel coaches Rob and Lisa Varano, was recognized once again, this time as The Daily Item's 2013 Female Athlete of the Year.
"I was really excited (when I received the news). I'm very honored," the junior Red Tornado said. "It was definitely a surprise. A lot of people I compete against (are worthy, too). There's a lot of good athletes out there."
The Athletes of the Year are determined by a vote of The Daily Item sports department. Other area athletes who received votes include: Warrior Run basketball and softball star Tay Parker; Selinsgrove shot put gold medalist and field hockey goalie Courtney McCartney; Shikellamy cross country state medalist and track athlete Treicy Cedeno; Warrior Run basketball and track standout Steph Shamburg; Mifflinburg state swimming champion Adriana Grabski; Southern Columbia basketball and softball star Mallory Tomaschik; and Greenwood field hockey and softball standout Katie Osborne.
This marks the first year an athlete from Mount Carmel -- male or female -- earned the honor since The Daily Item first awarded it in 2005.
Varano didn't simply just play three sports; she was phenomenal in each one.
"I think that all goes into her work ethic. She's not one to sit still -- she never was, even as a kid. When she's not doing something, she's going out for a run. (If) we lose a basketball game, she comes home at 11 and she's out running in the roads because she's wired and upset. That's just her," Mount Carmel girls basketball coach Lisa Varano said. "We've been fortunate in Mount Carmel (in athletics). She's been lucky she's been part of a good program (in soccer). Same goes with basketball, but a long basketball season means there's no time between that and track and I think if she didn't have that personality that she was constantly on the move, it might wear on somebody. But she can't sit still. That's always been her."
Ali Varano helped guide the Red Tornadoes girls soccer team to the District 4 Class A quarterfinals. She scored a game-winning goal against Troy with less than 10 minutes to play in the first round of districts.
She ended the season with a team-high 20 goals (two in the playoffs) and was the area's third-best scorer among District 4 teams, earning her a HAC first-team all-star nod at forward.
In basketball, the Red Tornadoes graduated a pair of 1,000-point scorers, but Varano was a huge part -- along with all-state forward Christina Perles -- in keeping Mount Carmel on the winning path. The Red Tornadoes claimed their third consecutive District 4 Class AA banner.
Varano was a HAC-II first-team all-star. She scored 20-plus points seven times throughout the season, with a season-high of 29 and then 24 in the first round of the PIAA Class AA state tournament. She led Mount Carmel with 15 points in a second-round loss to Pine Grove.
She averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 steals in her junior season.
The Red Tornado kept it up in the spring, earning medals in two different events at the District 4 Class AA championship meet (100 and 400 meters). She posted area-best times in the 200 (26.25) and the 300 intermediate hurdles (47.3), and was a Daily Item first-team selection.
"During track, I run a lot of different events. I'm not sure I found what's my best yet," Varano said laughing. "I was a little disappointed with how districts went, but I'm excited for next year and won't let that happen again."
In a dual meet against Shamokin, Varano told her coach she wanted to try the 300 hurdles. She not only ran the event well, but she nearly broke a Mount Carmel school record and qualified for states in the process.
"She's the type of person that you could put in any event and she'll excel in it," Mount Carmel track and field coach Ana Ditchey said. "This year she came in thinking her goal was to get to states in the 400. (She) worked extremely hard, dedicated herself and randomly decided she was going to do the 300 hurdles and was hundredths of a second off state qualifying just fooling around."
Varano also ran cross country last year for Mount Carmel. Regardless of what sport Varano is playing or what season it is however, her passion for playing is always strong.
"She's just so athletic and talented. Whatever she tries, she excels at. That's someone a coach dreams of having," Ditchey said.
And while Varano is an extremely talented multi-sport athlete, she doesn't particularly have one favorite of the bunch.
"This is a question a lot of people ask me, but it usually goes by season. (During) soccer, I think that's my favorite. Then basketball, and same with track," Varano said. "Basketball season has probably been the most exciting because of our success and how fun it is. But also, I like to just run so track might be my favorite. So they might all three be the same."
Of all accolades and achievements during the year, it's the basketball season that stands out for the Red Tornado junior.
"We were kind of underdogs last year; everybody told us that we wouldn't be as good," Varano said. "Definitely coming off with a win in district finals and even a game in states in basketball, I think that sticks out the most."
For most area fans, Varano's junior year as a whole is what sticks out the most.
n Jon Gerardi is a sports writer at The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JonGerardi.