No room for error for shorthanded Southmoreland cross country teams
Longtime Southmoreland coach Don Gilpin knows the numbers are against his boys and girls cross country teams this season.
With just five runners on each squad, any type of injury could be devastating.
“There's a lot of sports at Southmoreland and it's hard to get kids to come out (for cross country),” Gilpin said. “We don't have a junior high program, and there's kids who could come out but they're playing soccer. It's very frustrating. You can't win a meet unless you have five runners. You're not eligible to win unless you have five runners finish. It leaves little margin for error. You can't get anyone hurt or sick. This is the worst season I've ever had with (low) numbers.”
That's saying something, considering Gilpin began coaching in 1963 and has coached in some capacity every year since then.
The boys squad will be comprised of senior Mike Garlowich, junior Sage Guynn and sophomores Ben Bickerton, Brendon Hernley and Tyler Nelson.
Garlowich and Hernley will split time between cross country and soccer, but Bickerton, Guynn and Nelson will be full-time runners.
Gilpin believes he has a gem in Bickerton.
“He's going to be a good one,” Gilpin said. “He just missed making the state meet by one runner. He's very coachable and trains and works hard. He's very knowledgeable about running. I'm looking for good things from him before the year's over and the rest of his career.”
For the girls, the roster includes seniors Sarah Brown, Jamie Ellenberger, Mallory Garstecki and Kelsey Kuhns, and sophomore Riley Beistel, who is looking to follow up on a strong freshman season.
“Riley went to the state meet as a ninth-grader and is a very good runner,” Gilpin said. “She's improving every time we run and she's a really hard worker. My other four girls aren't really runners, but I give them more credit and I'm more proud of them than any of the other kids at our school that are doing nothing.”
Southmoreland's boys and girls will compete in Section 4-AA, along with Ford City, Freeport, Greensburg Central Catholic, Kittanning, Riverview, Shady Side Academy and West Shamokin.
Dave Stofcheck is a freelance writer.