Gateway runners hope preparation translates into success
Workouts in the offseason, miles and miles of ground covered over the summer and team practices the past two weeks have prepared the 2014 version of the Gateway varsity boys and girls cross country teams for action.
The teams, head coach Tom LaBuff said, are anxiously awaiting competition, which begins Saturday at the 26th annual Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park.
“Both teams have put in a lot of hard work to get to this point,” LaBuff said.
“They are excited to get the season started.”
When the Gateway varsity girls squad last competed, it had run to a 22nd-place finish at the WPIAL championships at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.
The Gators edged rival Plum by one point, and junior Maria Reynolds led the way by placing 67th overall.
“For Maria, it's night and day,” LaBuff said. “She is so far ahead of where she was last year. She's much stronger and much more confident. She has taken advantage of her training time, and her hard work is paying off. I think she will have a legitimate chance at qualifying for states. It will come down to her confidence level. She's done a great job at setting the bar high.”
Senior twins Tameka and Tamisha Williams wrapped up their Gateway careers at the 2013 WPIAL finals, but LaBuff will be counting on the return of junior Katie Heasley and senior Ricki Kapp, two experienced runners who also competed at WPIALs last year.
Heasley was the third Gateway runner to finish at WPIALs, and she was 115th.
LaBuff also pointed to a group of freshman he feels has the talent to make a big impact this year.
“They will improve when they get their feet wet in the season. They will help make it a very nice team,” he said.
“From what I can see, this team can come together to have a nice season. Last year, we couldn't seem to all be healthy at the same time. They have a good chance to do well because of their talent and work ethic.”
LaBuff said he will be counting on an experienced trio in juniors Liam Connelly and Jose Figueroa and sophomore Jackson Perry to lead the boys team.
“The boys should be solid, and it will depend a lot on the top three,” LaBuff said.
Connelly just missed out on a trip to states last year. He placed 30th overall in the boys AAA race as the Gators took 18th in the team standings.
“Liam is a very competitive runner,” LaBuff said.
“He, Jose and Jackson want to be No. 1, and they are training with that in mind. That really pushes them all.”
LaBuff said the team is thin overall, but, he said, sophomore Sam Rivera has the potential to fare well and help the team. Rivera joined Connelly, Figueroa and Perry at WPIALs last year.
Sophomore Cole Dalicandro, LaBuff said, also is ready to help the team.
“The boys team should be competitive, but how it translates to the section remains to be seen,” LaBuff said.
Seniors Jared Jenkins and Sam Seroky came in last year after the Gateway boys soccer season ended and ran at WPIALs.
Jenkins placed 87th, good for second on the team behind Connelly.
LaBuff said he is not sure if Jenkins, Seroky or any other soccer players will do the same this year. It is too early to tell, he said, and the potential for the boys soccer team to make the playoffs will determine their availability.
�The Gateway teams return to Section 4 with Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic, Fox Chapel, Highlands, Kiski Area, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills.
All eight programs again will gather for a one-day section championship meet at Schenley Park.
Saturday's Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park begins with the varsity girls race at 9 a.m., while the boys varsity race starts at 9:30.
The JV boys and girls will be at 10 and 10:30, respectively, and the middle school boys race will be at 11.
The middle school girls will race at 11:20.
Medals will go to the top 20 in the varsity races, and the top 20 JV runners in each race will receive ribbons.
“None of the coaches get overly concerned if one or more runners don't have their best race, but they know they will get a good early test,” LaBuff said.
“That's why teams keep coming back. The course is so challenging. It's a good wakeup call for kids who might not have done all that they needed to do over the summer. It gives teams good feedback as far as where they are at this point.
“I just tell our kids to run hard but don't think of it as life or death. It gives them a measuring stick to build on.”