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Gateway freshmen run to top finishes at Red, White and Blue

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Michael Love | The Times Express Gateway freshman Katie Heasley placed second in the freshman girls race at Saturday's Red, White and Blue Invitational at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.
Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Gateway cross country head coach Tom LaBuff touted his boys and girls freshman runners before the start of the season and said they could make waves in competition.

Running with some top freshmen from Class AAA and AA schools in the WPIAL and throughout western Pennsylvania, the Gators freshmen fared well at the Red, White & Blue Invitational on Saturday at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.

“It confirmed my thoughts that they would do well this season,” LaBuff said.

“They just needed that confidence. Given that opportunity to run up front, it really helped them.”

The freshmen race was one of five contested in cooler conditions than the runners had experienced through several weeks of preseason workouts and the first week of the season.

LaBuff said that a light drizzle was all the runners experienced in both the freshmen and varsity races.

“It was good conditions for the runners,” LaBuff said. “Footing wasn't an issue.”

Liam Connelly outdistanced the other 104 runners in the freshman boys race, as he finished in a winning time of 17:25.

“Liam really responded,” LaBuff said.

“He ran great. He hit the final oval with a yard or two lead and then really opened it up.”

LaBuff said a seventh-place finish was good for the continued rise in confidence of freshman Jose Figueroa (18:46) and that Tres Kubic ran a good race while finishing 26th in a time of 19:40.

Katie Heasley placed second out of 69 runners in the freshman girls race.

She ran a time of 21:16, as Eden Christian Academy's Lauren Gronbeck won with a time of 20:59.

“Katie is really showing herself to be a good big-meet runner,” LaBuff said.

“She responded in this race just as she did in the Gateway Invite. I wasn't sure if she even realized where she was place-wise until she hit the final oval. She was aggressive, got out well and finished strong.”

LaBuff said he also was impressed with Maria Reynolds, who finished fourth with a time of 21:46.

Two Gateway boys — seniors Tyler Palenchak and Ben Farina — competed in the varsity boys ‘A' race.

Palenchak finished 53rd with a time of 17:25, while Farina was 77th (17:46).

“Both Tyler and Ben were very disappointed,” LaBuff said.

“They didn't run as well as they know they can. They were in there against (261 other) runners, and once it narrows down, you're stuck unless you get out well.

“But it was only once race. You put it behind you and move on. I'm sure they will both bounce back.”

In the girls ‘A' varsity race, junior Tameka Williams led Gateway with a 78th-place finish in a time of 21:23, while twin sister Tamisha came in 102nd with a time of 21:55.

“The twins got out well, but they just didn't hold it together,” LaBuff said.

“That just comes down to confidence. It's another learning experience for them. They ran faster than they did last year. We can build off that.”

Sophomore Ricki Kapp's final race in 2011 was the Red, White & Blue Invitational. A leg stress fracture ended her season after the race.

Kapp placed 179th (23:46) on Saturday.

“Ricki ran a little slower than she did last year, but we are cautious with her this year and are making sure she gets through the season healthy,” LaBuff said.

“She's getting better with each race.”

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

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