Chartiers Valley, Keystone Oaks cross country returns plenty of experience
Teams from across the WPIAL – not to mention PIAA and West Virginia – will converge on Schenley Park Saturday for the 11th annual Red, White & Blue Classic in one of the largest cross country meets in the area.
Chartiers Valley and Keystone Oaks will both kick their seasons off at the event. Both squads return a large amount of talent and are hoping to use the race as a jump start to a strong season.
The Colts lost two runners from the boys squad but return plenty of talent to improve their 20th-place finish at the WPIAL Class AAA race in 2012.
“We lost key seniors from last year but we do have about 35 guys on the team,” Chartiers Valley coach Lori Poe said. “We have a lot of veterans on the team. We expect them to do better than last year.”
Seniors Corey Gulakowski and Alex Krieger will lead the team after big performances at the WPIAL race last season. Gulakowski finished in 77th with a time of 18:04 while Krieger came in 97th with a time of 18:23.
“They should be our top runners,” Poe said. “Sam Graves is another senior and should be in our top seven.”
A pair of juniors in Zack Cox and Tyler Wynn and a sophomore in Joseph Westrick all return after getting WPIAL championship race experience in 2012.
The girls squad lost a trio of seniors who led the Colts to a 28th-place finish at the WPIAL Class AAA race last season but return some young talent to fill the void.
Sophomore Alexis Byers should have an improved season after finishing second on the squad in the WPIAL title race with a time of 23:23. Other returning runners include juniors Leanna Pietracatello and Lauren Bittner and sophomore Natalie Vol.
“Sophmore Amy MacFarlane also plays lacrosse and has shown some potential,” Poe said.
The returning talent will be needed as the team competes in a loaded Section 6-AAA against Baldwin, Bethel Park, Canon McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, South Park, Trinity and Upper St. Clair.
Despite a tough schedule, Poe said her squads will be able to meet their goals if they continue to improve throughout the season.
“The boys team wants to finish higher at WPIALs than last season, which is realistic even with the seniors we lost,” Poe said. “The girls want to do the same. I just want the teams to build on what they accomplished last season.”
Junior Tom Gorman is the top returning runner for the Keystone Oaks boys squad. He had a strong finish at the WPIAL Class AA championship race in 2012, finishing in 47th with a time of 18:39.
“He is one of the most competitive athletes I have coached the last few years,” Keystone Oaks coach Kaitlin Yasko said. “He doesn't like to lose and he is always out to do his best.”
He will be joined by senior Jesse Stefanski, who finished in 140th at the WPIAL race last year with a time of 21:04.
“We have a freshman in Doug Sabo who was pretty successful at the middle school level,” Yasko said. “I coached him in both cross country and track.”
While the team is in a difficult Section 5-AA with the likes of South Fayette, Seton-La Salle and Winchester Thurston, Yasko feels the competition can only help her squad.
“Our primary focus is to improve our record and be more competitive,” Yasko said. “We are matched up against a pretty difficult section but that only means it will translate into us getting better. We want the boys to set personal goals and meet them.
“That way when we get to meets like WPIALs, they will have their best performances.”
The girls team will will return all seven runners from a squad that finished 24th at the WPIAL Class AA title race in 2012. Last season's top three finishers at WPIALs were all freshmen in Lauren Ragan (71st), Maryah Agurs (130th) and Danielle Super (131st).
“Most of the freshmen were first-year runners,” Yasko said. “They gained a lot of experience in the first year of competition. Having them is the best thing I could ask for.”
The team will have experience in a trio of seniors in Jillian Welch, Elizabeth Flaherty and Brittany Winkowski.
“(Junior) Elizabeth Boyle was a state qualifier as a freshman,” Yasko said. “She battled an injury last year and competed through the spring. She is healthy and looks good.”
With the returning talent the team has, Yasko is expecting big things from the girls squad. While they will have a hard team getting a sniff of a section title, they do have a chance to have a strong season and have multiple state qualifiers.
“I want to see them improve in the section,” Yasko said. “It will be hard to move up in the section with powerhouses like Bishop Canevin and South Fayette.
“I can safely say that if girls run the way they are capable, we could have one or more state qualifiers.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.