Kiski Area's Shreffler takes aim at WCCA title
Kierra Shreffler has her sights set on achieving two major goals at Thursday's Westmoreland County Coaches Association cross country meet at Westmoreland County Community College: Bringing home a county title and setting a personal record.
Shreffler, a junior, finds herself seventh on the list of top 10 cross country times in school history, which is displayed on a record board at the entrance to the Kiski Area track.
She is aiming to move up the list, and the flatter than normal course at WCCC provides a good place to do that. After placing third in the meet last year, she hopes to find her way to the top.
“Our school has a list of county champions, and I'd like to have my name on the list,” Shreffler said. “I just feel like it would be a big accomplishment because there's some tough competition. I really like to compete against the other girls there. It would be amazing to pull out a win. I'd also like to get a new (personal record) and try to break the school record, which is a 19:03. On that course, if I really try hard, I can get it.”
Megan Aller, now a sophomore on Duquesne's cross country team, holds the Kiski Area record.
Shreffler credited a different training regimen for helping her prepare for the WCCA meet. The team has been doing track workouts twice a week and distance running on two days.
“I feel pretty strong going in,” Shreffler said. “It will be difficult, but I feel confident that I can put myself up there in contention.”
Four of the top five finishers in last year's race return this year, including last year's champion, Latrobe's Maria Cawoski. Franklin Regional's Sterling Simek was fourth last year, and Southmoreland's Kaylee Farino placed fifth. Riley Kwiatkowski, who finished second, is the only runner who graduated.
“We've been looking at the times, and I think there's a chance that she can win it,” Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky said. “She's been working pretty hard, and hopefully she gets that opportunity. There's always good competition, so it won't be easy. You don't get many chances to be a Westmoreland County champion, so she's pretty pumped up for the race.”
Nick Gabrielli finished 10th each of the last two years at the WCCA boys event and called the course at WCCC his favorite to run. The course suits Gabrielli's running style and, with some extra work put in during the offseason, it could be a combination that nets a good result.
“(Gabrielli) had probably his best summer of training,” Berzonsky said. “We thought he ran really well at our section championship meet, so we're excited to see what he can do. The flatter course (at WCCC) and the fast pace really play to his strengths. We're thinking he can get a top-10 finish or maybe even higher.”
Like Schreffler, Gabrielli also finds himself peering at the top 10 list on the record board from time to time. It gives him perspective on the tradition of cross country at Kiski Area.
“It's really motivational to see all the great names that have gone through Kiski … Pat Miller, the Kennedys, all of them,” Gabrielli said. “It makes me want to get on that list. I just have to work for it. They're reasonable times that I could potentially hit. It's really something to think about that you could go down in the Kiski legacy with the great ones.”
One of his mentors, Eric Kennedy, graduated in 2017, ending a long line of Kennedys who went through the program. Gabrielli, a senior, used to be the one asking for advice and now has assumed the role of team leader.
“(Eric) was the one who would guide us through everything, and now that's me,” Gabrielli said. “It's been a big a really big change going from following someone to being the one everyone follows. This year, we have a big group of freshmen coming up, and they're coming to me almost like I'm another coach. It is weird not having a Kennedy there acting as another coach.”
Kiski Area placed third at the WCCA meet last year.
Gabrielli will anchor the team this year, with Angelo Pisani and Sam Shannon holding down the second and third spots. The Cavaliers hope to surprise some teams and leave with an overall championship.
“There's a banner in our gym that has the sports that have won the county,” Gabrielli said. “The last year that a cross country team won was when I was in eighth grade (2012). It has been a motivation for our team to get a 2017 up there.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.