Hempfield girls cross country team hopes to challenge for title, while boys work to improve
After 41 years as Hempfield's cross country coach, Ron Colland still has a passion for running, a sport that he knows doesn't get a lot of publicity.
“I still enjoy cross country, which is a different animal (than other popular sports),” Colland said.
This year, Colland has eight first-year cross country runners and only four seniors between the girls and boys team, a sign that there's still an interest.
“Sometimes, it's hard to convince (students) to give cross country a try,” said Colland, who is also a Hempfield track coach. “I think some kids that are on the cross country team persuaded their friends to come out.”
Jacob Bancroft, Tyler Borelli and Josh Suszek are running competitively for the first time and all have cracked the top 5 for the Spartans.
“It's something new to them,” Colland said. “We try to be cautious with them in terms of the type of course we run. We want them to have fun and continue to enjoy it and want to work hard.”
Runners Jordan Stack and August Papas return to a team that placed 18th at the WPIAL Championships a year ago and graduated five seniors. Stack, a sophomore, paces the boys, as he ran a 17:37 at the Red, White and Blue Invitational Sept. 7 at Schenley Park.
“That was about a minute and a half faster than he ran last year as a freshman in his first year of cross country,” Colland said of Stack. “That's a pretty nice improvement.”
With such inexperience, Colland looks for steady improvement throughout the season in hopes it carries over.
“All these guys will continue to improve as the year goes on,” Colland said. “I think next year will be a real good season for them.”
As for the girls, junior Morgan Ansell is a two-time state qualifier and top runner on a team that finished seventh at WPIALs last season.
“She basically trains year round,” Colland said. “Hopefully, she'll be able to (qualify for states) again this year for the third consecutive year.”
Joining Ansell are returners sophomore Rachel Fiaschetti and senior Brianna Gaudi as well as first-timers freshman Michelle Burns and sophomore Olivia Adams.
The Spartans took second in the Slippery Rock Invitational last weekend with an average time of 21:09. With such a strong top 5, the girls have a shot at being a PIAA team qualifier if everything goes just right.
Since the WPIAL split into three classifications, Class AAA receives three PIAA bids now instead of four.
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.