Gateway sophomore edged out of PIAA spot
Gateway sophomore Liam Connelly finished 111th overall in his first WPIAL championship experience last year, and he returned to the Coopers Lake course last Thursday hoping to improve on his placing from his freshman season and grab a qualifying spot for states.
When it was all said and done in the Class AAA boys race in frigid conditions at Coopers Lake, Connelly had improved like he had hoped.
His 30th-place finish in 17:13 was one minute and 20 seconds faster than his time last year.
That was the good news.
The tough news came when he found out he finished only two spots away from one of the PIAA individual qualifying spots.
“He was pretty upset when he found out,” Gateway head coach Tom LaBuff said.
“But he ran a terrific race. He beat kids that he had never beaten before. He didn't fade at all. Other kids just moved up. Down the stretch, he held his position and held off some good runners.”
The top three teams — North Allegheny, Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon — qualified for states, as well as the top 15 finishers who were not on one of the three qualifying teams.
LaBuff said he expected that number to be somewhere in the mid to upper 20s, and he was right.
The final qualifier — freshman Eric Kennedy from Kiski Area — placed 28th with a time of 17:06.
“It was by far Liam's best race when he's run with the big boys,” LaBuff said.
“He followed directions and got out well. He will use this the right way. He will use it as motivation.”
Junior Jared Jenkins, running in only his second race this season and first-ever WPIAL race after coming over after the Gateway boys soccer team's season ended, placed 87th with a time of 18:03.
“Jared knows he can run with someone like Liam,” LaBuff said. “He just has to get more experience.”
Freshman Jackson Perry came in right at 100th overall with a time of 18:12.
Rounding out the top five scoring finishers for the Gators were sophomore Jose Figueroa (113th, 18:21) and junior Sam Seroky (163rd, 18:21).
“The other kids didn't get out as well as they needed to,” LaBuff said.
“In a meet like that, you can't get back in the pack. It's hard to make up ground sometimes.”
Sophomore Trey Kubic battled through a shin ailment over the last couple of weeks and was hampered by it at WPIALs. He placed 199th (20:00).
“Trey was hurting,” LaBuff said. “He stopped for about a minute but was able to finish.”
LaBuff said the team had a top-10 goal, but it was a solid finish.
“All the kids made a lot of progress,” LaBuff said.
“They already are talking about what they want to do for track season.”
Fox Chapel placed second on the strength of a 1-2 individual finish from senior twin brothers Colin and Ethan Martin. Colin won the title with a time of 16:04.
The Gateway girls finished 22nd overall as sophomore Maria Reynolds led the way with a 67th overall finish in a time of 21:31.
“Maria ran a fine race,” LaBuff said.
Twin seniors Tameka and Tamisha Williams closed out their varsity cross country careers at WPIALs.
Tameka placed 94th (21:59), while Tamisha was 127th (22:37).
“Both Tameka and Tamisha didn't run badly,” LaBuff said.
“They just didn't have the last hurrah they were hoping for.”
LaBuff said the girls team members who also ran last year all had improved times this year.
“Everyone finished the season healthier than last year,” LaBuff said. “They too are already talking about track season and wanting to do well there.”
Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley and North Allegheny finished 1-2-3 in the team standings and qualified for states.
Section 4 champion Kiski Area finished fourth.
As a team, Shaler placed 26th, but the squad produced the individual champion, as junior Brianna Schwartz took top honors with a time of 17:52.
The time set a new WPIAL-championship record by six seconds, and she outdistanced second-place finisher Mary Malone from North Hills by 53 seconds.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at email@example.com.