Gateway, Plum test their mettle at early-season invitational
Heat, humidity and hills all added up to an early-season test for more than 15 high school cross country teams, as the Gateway Invitational marked its 24th year.
Boyce Park provided the setting, as runners attacked the hilly course that has been used since 2007.
Gateway and Plum are regulars at the race, and the Gators and Mustangs fared well and were able to see where they stood against some challenging competition from throughout the WPIAL and elsewhere in western Pennsylvania.
On the varsity boys side, Gateway and Plum each placed a runner in the top 20, as Gators' senior Tyler Palenchak finished seventh with a time of 18:25, and Mustangs junior Alan Yocca took 20th in a time of 18:53.
Both of their place finishes and times were improvements from last year, as Palenchak was 12th (18:42) in 2011, and Yocca was 38th (20:06).
A Plum and a Gateway runner were not too far behind Yocca, as Plum senior Luke Jennings took 22nd in 18:59 and Gateway freshman Liam Connelly was 23rd (19:00).
Fox Chapel junior Ethan Martin set a fast pace, and he was not challenged coming down the stretch to the finish line.
His first-place time of 17:20 was 33 seconds faster than Hempfield's Jon Faye.
Last year, Martin took third with a time of 18:01, and he was looking up at Baldwin graduate Andrew Kuchta, who set a course record with a time of 16:53.
Faye was sixth in the 2011 running of the Gateway Invite.
Baldwin won its fifth boys team title in the past seven seasons. The Highlanders' top two runners placed fourth and fifth, a third runner took 17th and a fourth runner placed 21st.
Plum finished in the sixth spot in the team standings, while Gateway was one behind in seventh.
The girls varsity race saw a senior lead the Plum contingent, and a freshman paced the Gateway team.
Mustangs veteran runner Gina Valotta placed 26th overall in a time of 23:45, and she knocked 1:35 off her 47th-place finish at last year's invitational.
Gators first-year runner Katie Heasley turned in a 29th-place finish in a time of 23:48.
Morgan Ansell put her stamp on another Gateway Invitational title, as the Hempfield sophomore claimed her second victory in as many seasons.
She bested the field with a time of 20:37, four seconds faster than runner-up Mary Humphrey of Fox Chapel.
With Ansell's first-place finish leading the way, Hempfield captured its second straight girls team title. The Spartans edged out second-place Laurel Highlands by three points.
Gateway placed eighth, while Plum took 10th.
Both Plum and Gateway will be in action Saturday at the annual Red, White and Blue Invitational at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.
The popular early-season race features dozens of teams in both Class AAA and AA, and a who's who of top WPIAL teams and squads from throughout western Pennsylvania are schedule to compete.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.