Plum duo runs at PIAA meet
Plum freshman Jake Susalla and junior Alan Yocca ran at the PIAA Class AAA cross country championships for the first time Saturday, as the state's best high school distance runners battled for top honors on Hershey's Giant Center Complex course.
Susalla was 176th after the first mile of the three-mile race, and he moved up to 151st after the second mile.
When it was all over, Susalla, who placed 16th at the WPIAL championships two weeks ago, was 131st with a time of 17:34.
“It was Jake's first year running distance in any form,” Plum head coach Joe Ionta said. “He has come a long way.”
Susalla finished third among all freshmen runners.
“He's going to be more confident in the way he runs as he gets older and gets more experienced,” Ionta said. “He knows he needs to push it a little earlier, but that comes with experience.
“A 17:34 in those conditions is outstanding. The future is bright for him. He's a hard worker who responds to challenges.”
Yocca, who finished 18th at WPIALs, battled illness up to and through his race.
He finished 215th overall with a time of 19:27.
“He wasn't feeling well, but he wanted to run,” Ionta said.
“He had worked hard all year to get to states. The weather conditions (rain and wind) weren't conducive for someone not feeling 100 percent. The positive thing for Alan is that he has another year to come back. He has a track season to look forward to and both seasons next year. Finishing 18th at WPIALs is big. He should be proud of that.”
Susalla and Yocca recorded the two best WPIAL finishes in the history of the Plum boys cross country program.
“Their runs at WPIALs and the entire season speak to their work ethic,” Ionta said.
“Both brought their times down significantly from the beginning of the season. It speaks volumes to where they wanted to go and what they wanted to accomplish.”
Ionta said the course was in pretty good shape after a week's worth of rain from Superstorm Sandy pounded down.
“To be honest, the course was in a lot better shape than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“I thought mud would be ankle deep in spots. It wasn't ideal conditions, but (the course managers) did a good job with the course considering all the rain they had. We were considering running with longer spikes, but we didn't need to.”
A pair of WPIAL runners placed in the top five of the boys AAA race.
Kiski Area junior Brent Kennedy finished second. He was one of three runners in the race to break 16 minutes, as he finished with a time of 15:52.
Fox Chapel junior Ethan Martin finished tied for fourth with a time of 16:00.
WPIAL team champion North Allegheny finished fourth in the team standings at states.
West Chester Henderson from District 1 won the state title. The team had all seven runners place 31st or better.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.