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Gateway cross country teams to rely on quality over quantity

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Times Express
Gary Bills | Times Express Tyler Palenchak finished 48th at last year's WPIAL Class AAA cross country championship meet.

Gateway varsity boys and girls cross country head coach Tom LaBuff said this year's theme is quality over quantity.

Each squad has only six runners, but, LaBuff said, the talent is there.

“The numbers are small, but we'll be solid,” he said.

“Once in a while we'll end up with one of the teams having small numbers, but having that with both teams at the same time is kind of a shock.”

LaBuff said he's looking forward to seeing his teams show what they have on Saturday at the 24th annual Gateway Invitational on the hills of Boyce Park.

The boys team features three seniors and three freshmen.

Leading the way is senior Tyler Palenchak, who finished 48th individually at last year's WPIAL Class AAA championships and helped lead the Gateway boys to a 13th place in the team standings.

“Tyler should be one of the elite runners in the WPIAL,” LaBuff said. “It's just a matter of confidence in himself and his abilities. He's ready.”

Fellow senior Ben Farina also returns and has his sights set on a strong season.

“Ben is head and shoulders above where he was last year,” LaBuff said.

Jordan Landfair, LaBuff said, is a senior newcomer with a lot of talent.

“We should be really strong up front with those three,” LaBuff said.

Three freshmen — Liam Connelly, Jose Figuera and Tres Kubic — enter the varsity ranks and will be counted on to make the boys team successful.

“All of the boys have worked so hard,” LaBuff said. “I'm excited with what I've seen from them in practice. Now we want to see them perform in competitions.”

Sara Strittmatter, a junior this season and the leading runner from last year's girls squad, decided not to compete for the team this year.

LaBuff said he was disappointed in that development but is encouraged with the continued improvement of junior twins Tameka and Tamisha Williams.

They are the veterans of what LaBuff said is a young but talented group full of potential.

“They should be pretty competitive. I like what we've seen from them in the practices,” LaBuff said.

“We just have to keep our consistency and focus.”

Sophomore Ricki Kapp, LaBuff said, was showing promise early last season before a leg stress fracture derailed her progress.

“The prime goal for her is to get through the season healthy,” LaBuff said.

Freshman Maria Reynolds is expected to challenge for the top spot.

“Maria gets better every day,” LaBuff said. “She just loves to run. She's gaining more confidence as she does tough workouts.”

Fellow freshmen Sara Watson and Katie Heasley, LaBuff said, are excited to get into the races both in and out of the section.

Saturday's Gateway Invitational brings together runners from 17 teams both in and out of the WPIAL.

The teams from the WPIAL set to send runners include Plum, Riverview, Bethel Park, Baldwin, Kiski Area, Hempfield, Franklin Regional, Laurel Highlands, West Allegheny, Penn Hills, Norwin, Fox Chapel, Greensburg Central Catholic and Trinity Christian.

Hempfield sophomore Morgan Ansell leads the returning runners. She won last year's varsity girls race, and she went on to place fifth at WPIALs.

District 10 AA power Mercyhurst Prep will compete Saturday. The girls squad finished fifth at last November's PIAA championships, while the boys team took ninth.

“There's always good competition, but it's not overwhelming,” LaBuff said. “It's a nice start to the season. Each team gets a good first look at what they have and what some of the other teams have.”

LaBuff said he also is excited to have nine middle school teams run at Saturday's invitational.

“That's the most we've ever had,” he said.

The varsity girls race kicks everything off at 9 a.m., and the boys race will follow at 9:30.

The junior varsity boys and girls races will be at 10 and 10:30, respectively.

The middle school boys race will be at 11 a.m., with the middle school girls competition at 11:20.

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

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