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Kiski Area senior out to defend cross country title, avenge track setback

| Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
Kiski Area's (L-R) Eric Kennedy, Patrick miller, and Morgan Kiebler run along the Butler-Freeport Trail in Freeport during practice on Saturday, August 24, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Kiski Area's (L-R) Eric Kennedy, Patrick miller, and Morgan Kiebler run along the Butler-Freeport Trail in Freeport during practice on Saturday, August 24, 2013.

The WPIAL's reigning cross country Class AAA boys champion has redemption on his mind.

While last fall went about as well as Kiski Area's Brent Kennedy could ask — he won WPIALs and took second in the state — the past spring slightly soured his junior year.

Track's longest races, though not the same as cross country's 5,000-meter competitions, serve as rematches for the area's elite runners. Kennedy thrived but fell short of becoming the WPIAL's undeniable king of distance when Fox Chapel's Ethan Martin won the district and PIAA title in the 3,200.

With both Kennedy and Martin, the 2012 WPIAL cross country runner-up, back as seniors, this season should help determine to whom the throne belongs.

“After Ethan and Colin (Martin, Ethan's twin) both beat me in track, I can't say I'm too much of a favorite,” said Kennedy, who placed second in the 3,200 at the WPIAL championships and seventh at the PIAA finals. “I'm not happy with (last track season), not satisfied. … There were six kids ahead of me at states, so I have some work to do. I think losing is the best motivation.”

Any meet that includes Kiski Area and Fox Chapel — there are several, in part because both teams belong to Section 4-AAA — will become a chess match between Kennedy and the Martins. The Kiski Area senior expects to encounter no greater challenger within the WPIAL than twins — Colin Martin, who placed fifth in the WPIAL in cross country and third in the 3,200, wouldn't mind toppling both of the boys who stood in his way.

Kennedy will have his own brotherly company this fall when freshman Eric Kennedy joins the Cavaliers crew. The younger Kennedy and seniors Patrick Miller, J.D. Fahnestock and Bryce Nelson will comprise Kiski Area's top five.

“It's just kind of cool that we have four seniors and one freshman, and he fits right in with us,” Kennedy said.

Kiski Area's girls team might contend for the WPIAL team crown, as it has no shortage of returning starters from a group that took eighth last season.

Senior Morgan Kiebler, injured for most of last year, will lead a strong collection of Cavaliers that includes sophomore Megan Aller (15th in the WPIAL Class AAA in 2012), junior Lauren Smeltzer (18th) and junior Stephanie Lednak (34th).

“We have four girls who could be the No. 1 at any point,” coach Tom Berzonsky said.

In Class AA, Knoch is in a situation similar to Kiski's. Five of the top six finishers from last year's team that placed third at the WPIAL championships returned. Sophomores Abby Jones (14th in Class AA), Mandi Moxie (16th) and Mandy Hunt (24th) are stronger, yet Knoch's top runner might be freshman Rachael Wittmer, coach Wess Brahler said.

The Knights are likely to qualify for a second straight PIAA championships berth, and they might even surpass the success of the 2008 team, which placed second in the WPIAL.

“Our key is just for these girls to realize how much talent they have and to understand that they need to be up at the front,” Brahler said. “They're a little untested right now.”

The Alle-Kiski Valley's best hope for a WPIAL individual cross country girls title calls Riverview home. Sophomore Molly Kennedy — no relation to the Kiski Area runners — started running cross country for the first time a year ago after she impressed the Raiders as she jogged the track for volleyball conditioning. She lacked a competitive distance running background, yet she finished eighth in Class A — Riverview, with underclassmen taking its top five spots, took sixth as a team.

“When I look back now, I can see how unprepared I was,” said the sophomore, who enters her follow-up season in better shape after training with teammates during the offseason. “Running with the team is definitely harder than running by yourself because they push you. They want it as bad as you. So you go even faster than you thought you would.”

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