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Bishop Canevin girls cross country ready for WPIAL championships

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Signal Item
Junior Caroline Defrank is looking to qualify for the PIAA Class AA track and field championships today, Thursday, at the WPIAL finals.
Signal Item
Mary Frances Philbin is one of four talented sophomore runners on the Bishop Canevin girls cross country team. Randy Jarosz | for the Signal Item

A little bad luck might have been what kept the Bishop Canevin girls cross country team from a Section 5-AA title.

The Lady Crusaders had the injury bug hit the team midway through the season, when the Lady Crusaders were set to battle South Fayette in a dual meet. With only four runners, it couldn't field a full team against the Lady Lions and Steel Valley, picking up its lone two losses in section competition.

“There was a good chance we could have won that meet,” Bishop Canevin cross country coach Eric Shafer said. “Instead, we finished tied for second with Ellis School.”

The Lady Crusaders finished section competition at 6-2. South Fayette won the section with an 8-0 record.

While the team fell short of claiming the section crown, it will set its sights on the WPIAL Class A title.

The championship race is scheduled for today, Thursday, at Cooper's Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.

Bishop Canevin's chances of winning the title or qualifying for the PIAA championships by finishing in the top three will improve this season.

The championship races will increase from the two run into the past — Class AAA and AA — to three with the addition of a Class A race, which Bishop Canevin will run in.

The Lady Crusaders previously had to run against some of the elite program in cross country in the Class AA race. Programs such as Quaker Valley, South Fayette, Freeport and Beaver will run the AA race, while smaller programs will participate in the Class A competition.

While the Lady Crusaders will face smaller schools, that doesn't mean there will be less competition. Shafer said there as many as six other teams with a strong chance of fighting for a top-three finish.

“Laurel is considered to be one of the top programs in the state,” Shafer said. “Shenango has a pretty strong team. And the other Catholic schools — OLSH and Vincentian Academy — will be up there. We were able to beat them at the Catholic Invitational by a small margin.”

Shafer added that Riverview and Ellis School are sneaking into the discussion as dark horses.

While it will be a battle to make it into the top three, Bishop Canevin has a youthful batch of runners looking to finish the season strong.

Caroline Defrank leads the squad as the most experienced runner. The junior has been a constant force on the squad since joining as a freshman and has finished in 31st the past two WPIAL championships, barely missing out on qualifying for the PIAA event.

“I think she has realized how good she can be,” Shafer said. “She has really stepped up her intensity in practices. She seems to be peaking at the right time.”

The Lady Crusaders have a talented group of sophomore runners who have been improving steadily. Bailey Burgess, Mary Olivia Philbin, Mary Frances Philbin and Maggie Aiello are athletes Shafer said performed well as freshmen and have continued their growth this season.

Burgess had a strong performance at last year's Class AA championships, finishing in 33rd. Mary Olivia Philbin finished 45th.

“They are all really good friends, so I think it helps them push each other,” Shafer said. “They have worked really hard to improve themselves. And not only has it made them better individually but made the group better.”

Leah Narkevic may be the surprise of the season. The freshman joined the team in early September, and Shafer said she has improved rapidly despite the late start.

“She always is working to get better,” Shafer said. “She is one of Canevin's many multi-sport athletes and is on the junior-varsity volleyball team. So, sometimes, she can't make due to away games, but she will run on her own.”

In preparation for the WPIAL championships, Bishop Canevin participated in the Freedom Invitational last week, finishing third.

Defrank led the way with a second-place finish in 20 minutes, 48 second. Mary Olivia Philbin took ninth in 22:34, and Burgess came in 11th in 23:03.

Other Bishop Canevin finishers included Narkevic in 17th (23:34), Mary Frances Philbin in 37th (26:59) and Maggie Aiello in 45th (28:15).

With the strong performance at the Freedom Invitational, Shafer said he likes how his squad is performing. He thinks his squad may have what it takes to get a top-three finish at Cooper's Lake.

“I think the team knows what is at stake and is ready to lay it on the line,” Shafer said. “They have improved from the first couple of meets and invited to now. They seem to get better overtime they compete. I think were ready to give our best performance.

“And a little luck always helps.”

The Lady Crusaders will participate in the first race of the day at 12:30 p.m. at the WPIAL Championships.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at nsmith@tribweb.com or 412-388-5813.

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