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PIAA runners could battle mud at championships Saturday

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Kiski Area's Brent Kennedy crosses the finish line in first place during the Westmoreland County Coaches Association cross country meet at Seton Hill University in Greensburg on Oct. 11, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

This Saturday's PIAA cross country championships could rival a political race when it comes to incessant mudslinging.

Because of heavy rains dumped by a massive storm, local state qualifiers are preparing for muddy, extra-challenging conditions on the 3.1-mile Parkview Course in Hershey.

Kiski Area junior Brent Kennedy, who cruised to the WPIAL Class AAA title on a warm, dry afternoon last week, believes this week's weather could play a significant role at the state finals.

Also, boys and girls cross country increased from two to three classes this year, so the number of championship races chewing up the ground has increased from four to six. And the AAA boys run last.

“The weather will definitely slow the race down, and I'm in the sixth race,” Kennedy said. “The course should be pretty messed up by then. But I'll come into the race with a positive attitude. It will create adversity for everyone.”

Last year's WPIAL finals were run in extremely soggy conditions, and Kennedy said times were slowed by a minute or more. On Saturday, he plans to wear longer spikes to provide better traction.

“We've always trained through weather like this to be prepared for muddy conditions,” Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky said. “You can't go out too hard in these conditions. If you're smart, you'll sit back a little at the beginning.”

Berzonsky said the PIAA's course is more difficult than the WPIAL site.

The middle of the Parkview course features a series of rises nicknamed the “Aloha Hills.” And the last stumbling block before the finish line is a hill that has been known to vex runners, who often get passed by others making their final kick.

Berzonsky said dips in the middle stretch could turn out to be muddiest part of the course.

The winner of the AAA boys race might come down to Kennedy and Fox Chapel junior Ethan Martin, who took WPIAL runner-up honors. Kennedy (15:39) beat Martin by 5 seconds last week.

“Ethan has a shot (at the state title),” Fox Chapel coach Tom Moul said. “He's been chasing (Kennedy) all year. Ethan's tenacious. He doesn't seem to be affected by pressure too much.”

Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at pkogut@tribweb.com or 724-224-2696.

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