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Gateway cross country teams set for WPIAL AAA meet

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

The Plum and Gateway cross country teams have finished preparations for this week's WPIAL Class AAA championships at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock, and both squads will line up with the other top teams in a battle for top finishes, medals and trips to states.

For the first time, the WPIAL will have boys and girls races in three classifications, separating the field further from the traditional Class AAA and AA race.

A race for Class A was added this year, and the girls teams in Class A will take to the course first at 12:45 p.m.

The Class A boys race will be at 3 p.m.

The AA girls and boys races will be at 1:30 and 3:45, respectively, with the AAA girls and boys races set for 2:15 and 4:30, respectively.

Up to seven runners from each team will be entered, and five will count toward the team scoring.

Medals will be awarded to the top 15 runners in each classification, and the top three teams from the boys and girls races in Class AAA will advance to states.

The top 15 runners not on one of the three state-qualifying teams also will run at states.

The PIAA championship meet will be at the Parkview Cross Country Course in the Hershey Giant Center Complex on Nov. 3.

Plum seniors Gina Valotta, Courtney Liberatore and Mia Pietropola; sophomore Abby Sebunia; and junior Chrissy Joyce return to WPIALs after running there last year, while the boys return seniors Luke Jennings and Adam Molinaro and juniors Alan Yocca, Eddie Amori and Andy Marzullo.

Jennings was the only Plum runner on either squad to crack the top 100 last year. He placed 90th in the 2011 boys race.

The Gateway boys were 13th at WPIALs last year, and senior Tyler Palenchak paced the squad with a 48th-place finish. Fellow senior Ben Farina was 104th last year, and Palenchak and Farina are the only two Gators boys runners with WPIAL experience.

Junior twins Tameka and Tamisha Williams ran at WPIALs last year, and they lead the Gateway girls into this year's championship meet.

Numerous WPIAL teams — including Plum and Gateway — ran on the Cooper's Lake course at last week's Tri-State Coaches Association Invitational.

The field for the Tri-State meet was much larger in size than it will be for the WPIAL finals. Runners from close to 70 teams took to the course for one girls and one boys varsity race.

Plum head coach Joe Ionta said the Tri-State meet was a good test for his runners, as they got a good chance to see what the course is all about in advance of the WPIAL finals.

The Mustangs boys placed 16th out of 67 teams, as Yocca and freshman Jake Susalla, running the Cooper's Lake course for the first time, paced the squad with 43rd and 61st places, respectively.

Valotta fronted the Plum girls with a 122nd-place finish.

Gateway head coach Tom LaBuff said his runners didn't fare as well as they were capable of at Tri-States.

Freshman Liam Connelly, in his first race at Cooper's Lake, paced Gateway with a 116th-place finish, while junior Tamisha Williams (179th) was the top Gators finisher in the girls varsity race.

“The kids were disappointed with their runs (at Tri-States), but I told them they can't do anything about it now,” LaBuff said.

“At least it wasn't the finals. They will be well- rested. I am still optimistic. The Tri-State meet doesn't change their goals. Their attitudes are still good.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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