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Plum cross country squads preparing for one-day Section 4 championship meet

Michael Love
| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Plum cross country runners, from left, Tyler Mower, Daniel Bergless and John Raggiunti, tackle the Mustangs’ home course at Boyce Park in a nonsection meet against Woodland Hills on Sept. 10, 2013.
Lou Raggiunti | For The Plum Advance Leader
Plum cross country runners, from left, Tyler Mower, Daniel Bergless and John Raggiunti, tackle the Mustangs’ home course at Boyce Park in a nonsection meet against Woodland Hills on Sept. 10, 2013.

Last year, Section 4-AAA for boys and girls cross country switched up its format for determining its champions.

It went from the traditional dual meets and three-team meets to a single one-day meet at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.

All nine section squads put it all on the line in one race.

That format remains for this year, and Plum, as well as Allderdice, Gateway, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills, Fox Chapel, Highlands, Kiski Area and Pittsburgh Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic will do battle for all the marbles.

“The kids enjoy it because it gives them an invitational atmosphere,” Plum head coach Joe Ionta said.

“Schenley Park is nice because they can get very good times there. Plum and Gateway's courses at Boyce are two of the most challenging courses in the WPIAL. The kids really look forward to going to Schenley.”

The races are scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m., and there will be separate boys and girls varsity races followed by a combined boys and girls junior varsity race.

Each team will have their finishes tabulated separately against the other eight teams. A win-loss record will be collected from those head-to-head matchups to determine the champion.

Fox Chapel is the defending boys champion, while Plum was fourth, and Gateway was fifth.

On the girls side, Kiski Area will look to make it two in a row.

Ionta said sophomore Jake Susalla still is a question mark for Tuesday's championship meet.

He hasn't run since taking third overall in the boys varsity race at the season-opening Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park on Aug. 31.

“He's been able to practice a couple days and get a couple of runs in,” Ionta said.

“We'll see how he is feeling towards the end of the week. If Jake comes back anywhere near his potential, the boys should be very competitive. If he can't come back Tuesday, hopefully he will be in top form for WPIALs.”

Ionta said he was pleased with the way his teams ran in nonsection dual meets against both Woodland Hills (Sept. 10) and Avella (Sept. 16).

“Almost everyone was 30 to 35 seconds faster (against Avella) than they were against Woody High the week before,” Ionta said.

“The guys are moving in the right direction, and the girls are running in a pack and staying right together.”

Ionta said the teams also found success at Saturday's Miles For Smiles race at Boyce Park.

“Because of the weather conditions, they ran the Stampede (in the Park) course,” Ionta said.

“They went on the road because the trails were a mess with the rain. The kids saw a lot of improvement in their times. We're moving in the right direction.”

Yocca won the Miles For Smiles men's race, as several members of the Plum boys team finished in the top 10.

Sophomore first-year cross country runner Rachel Valotta finished second in the women's race and 26th among men's and women's runners combined.

She was behind only Franklin Regional's Bria McMahon, the winner of the girls varsity race at the Gateway Invitational.

“That was really positive for Rachel,” Ionta said.

“Kayla Anderson only finished three or four seconds behind Rachel.”

Plum will run at the Uniontown Invitational Saturday morning, and, Ionta said, the event will give his teams a good look at where they are at this point in the season.

“We're going to use that as our benchmark,” Ionta said. “Since the Gateway Invite, we haven't had that big invitational-type meet. We're looking forward to seeing a lot of teams from down in that area.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at

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