Gateway cross country teams ready for up for WPIAL AAA championship
Everything is on the line for the Gateway varsity boys and girls cross country teams Thursday as they run at the WPIAL Class AAA Cross Country Championships at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.
The Gators and the other teams in AAA will have to deal with what is expected to be a cold afternoon.
Temperatures are predicted to be in the low 40s with windy conditions and a chance for rain.
“Rain and cold will make the races interesting,” LaBuff said. “The cold weather can make for a long day. Every team has to deal with it, and it could be challenging for some, but usually, the cream rises to the top anyway.”
The six-race afternoon begins with the Class A girls at 12:45 p.m.
The AAA girls race will be at 2:15, and AAA boys will take to the course at 4:30.
The top three finishing teams in both the boys and girls AAA races automatically qualify for the PIAA championships set for the Hershey Giant Center Complex on Nov. 2.
Also, the top 15 individual finishers who are not on one of the top three qualifying teams also will earn trips to the state meet.
A maximum of seven runners from each team will be permitted to run, with the top five counting in the scoring.
Gateway runners got a chance to run the Cooper's Lake course last week at the Tri-State Coaches Association Championships.
The weather was not ideal for those races, and a large field of runners from more than 70 teams in each race made it challenging, LaBuff said.
“A number of teams had 10 runners competing,” he said. “There were a massive number of runners in each race. At WPIALs, you will have a third of the runners in each race that were at Tri-States. You won't have to deal with the AA teams like South Fayette and Quaker Valley or the (non-WPIAL) teams like Altoona and Grove City. It will make it a lot easier to maneuver on the course.”
The Gateway boys finished 27th at the Tri-State meet last week, and the team got a boost from a pair of juniors who joined the team after the completion of their Gators boys soccer season.
Jared Jenkins finished 89th behind Gateway sophomore and team leader Liam Connelly (68th), and Sam Seroky (298th) also competed at Tri-States.
“At the end of their season, I sent them an email to see if they wanted to run,” LaBuff said. “I wanted them to run at Tri-States and see what they had. They jumped right in and started practicing. The other kids welcomed them with open arms. They came in good shape with all the running they do in soccer.”
Connelly is the top returning Gateway boys finisher from the 2012 WPIAL meet, and he will try to improve on an 111th-place finish as a freshman.
“Liam is such a hard worker,” LaBuff said. “He has an outside chance (at qualifying for states). He ran and finished well at Tri-States. He knows what he needs to do at WPIALs. It will probably take mid to low 20s place-wise to get (to states).”
LaBuff said freshman Jackson Perry is running varsity-level times, and he was Gateway's third finisher at Tri-States.
Sophomore Jose Figueroa was the team's fourth-place finisher at Tri-States.
LaBuff said sophomore Trey Kubic has been battling a lower-leg injury and was held out of the Tri-State meet. He is expected to run at WPIALs.
If everything goes well, LaBuff said, the Gateway boys have a shot to crack the top 10 in the team standings.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we can run well at WPIALs,” LaBuff said.
“I just want them to go out and run their race and not worry about anything else.”
On the girls side, it will be the final WPIAL championship race for senior twins Tameka and Tamisha Williams, and, LaBuff said, they will have extra motivation because of that.
LaBuff said the girls team is set in the top four with the Williams twins and sophomores Katie Heasley and Maria Reynolds.
“Our goal is to be in the top six or seven with our first four runners,” LaBuff said.
LaBuff said Heasley is looking forward to competing at WPIALs. She has battled through injury this season but not nearly as much, LaBuff said, as her freshman season.
The key to the overall finish, LaBuff said, will be the fifth runner, which is expected to be between junior Ricki Kapp and freshmen Emily Poach and Laura Trozzo.
LaBuff said the girls team ran a decent race at Tri-States and placed 33rd overall.
“They got out OK, lost ground and fought back hard. I liked the way they competed,” he said.
LaBuff said Mt. Lebanon is the favorite with a number of teams, including Section 4 champion Kiski Area, in the mix for second and third.
“It should be an exciting girls race,” LaBuff said.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.