Addition of class shakes up WPIAL cross country finals
A “middle class” will join the pack at the WPIAL cross country championships, and Knoch coach Wess Brahler believes his boys and girls teams' fortunes could benefit from the change.
The WPIAL team and individual finals have increased from two to three classes, giving more squads and individuals a chance to advance to the state meet.
Because of the change, Knoch has gone from being one the smallest schools in Class AAA to one of the largest in AA — a move that could help the Knights in their pursuit of postseason honors.
“A majority of coaches have been asking for this for a long time,” Brahler said. “We've competed well and done well, but this makes things as little more fair.”
The WPIAL championships, now consisting of three girls and three boys races, will be held Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.
Before this season, cross country was divided into Class AAA and AA. With the addition of Class A, there's no longer as drastic a difference in enrollment figures between the largest and smallest schools in the same division.
For example, Knoch has enrollments of 371 females and 383 males. North Allegheny, the largest Class AAA school, has 985 girls and 1,078 boys. The North Allegheny boys have captured seven consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles and are favored to make it eight in a row.
Locally, Fox Chapel, Kiski Area and Plum remained in Class AAA, Highlands and Knoch dropped from AAA to AA, Freeport stayed in AA, and Ford City and Riverview relocated from AA to the newly created A. Kittanning is a special case, with the boys dropping from AAA to AA, and the girls continuing in AA.
Not all schools figure to reap rewards from the addition of a class. Teams such as Freeport that stayed put in Class AA will have to compete against larger schools realigned from Class AAA.
“I explained the changes (in cross country) to them during last track season,” Freeport coach Bob Livrone said. “They said they'll just have to work harder. They took it pretty well.”
In Class AAA, Kiski Area junior Brent Kennedy should be in contention for the WPIAL title after finishing fourth last season. Fox Chapel junior Ethan Martin, who finished sixth last year, and his twin brother Colin, who placed 33rd, figure to compete for a top-10 finishes.
In Class AA, the Knoch girls and boys could compete for top-three finishes. Abby Jones paces the girls and sophomore Preston Carlsson leads the boys. Despite the addition of some larger schools, the Freeport girls also could challenge for a top-three finish. Senior Kayla Zboran and junior Becca Dudek should chase top-10 medals after finishing 12th and 14th, respectively, last season.
In Class A, Riverview coach Ashley Barnhart believes her girls' team is in the running for a top-three finish. The Raiders, who finished 19th in Class AA last year, were the last local team to capture a WPIAL title, winning Class AA crowns in 2005 and '06.
“We have more of a shot this year than we would if we would have stayed in Class AA,” Barnhart said.
In each race, the top three teams as well as the top 15 finishers who aren't members of those squads advance to the PIAA championships, which will be held in Hershey on Nov. 3.
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.