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Plum runners gearing up for big section meet

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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

It's one race for all the marbles in Section 4-AAA.

Plum and eight other boys and girls cross country teams are putting the finishing touches on preparations for this Tuesday's section championship meet at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park Oval.

Instead of a series of dual meets or tri-meets over a month's time, everyone will gather to test there mettle in one shot.

The coaches in Section 4 got together a couple of weeks ago and devised the one-championship-meet format. A better training schedule for the runners (less meets) and saving the districts money on transportation, Gateway head coach Tom LaBuff said, were the main reasons for the move.

There will be two varsity and two junior varsity races on Tuesday, and the races begin at 4 p.m.

“This will be the first time we've come up with something like this in my 35 years of coaching,” Plum head coach Joe Ionta said.

Joining Plum will be Allderdice, Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic, Fox Chapel, Gateway, Highlands, Kiski Area, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.

Each team will be permitted 10 runners for the boys varsity race and the same number in the girls varsity race, and Ionta said each of the races will have between 70 and 90 runners.

“I don't think it will change our perspective that much,” Ionta said.

“We're kind of pack runners, and we're not going to be focused on how many runners from each squad are in front of us. We're just going to run the best races we can. The kids will have to adjust to running with 90 people instead of 30 to 40 people in a normal tri-meet. But it will be another good race to prepare them for the bigger WPIAL races.”

The Plum runners competed in a community race in Plum over the weekend, and the Mustangs were scheduled to run against Penn Hills and Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic in a non-scoring meet on Tuesday.

Ionta said the meet would give the teams a good idea of where they are at right now and a better idea of who will be the 10 boys and 10 girls runners entered in this Tuesday's championship races.

Seniors Luke Jennings and Adam Molinaro, freshman Jake Susalla, junior Andy Marzullo, sophomore Tyler Mower and juniors Eddie Amori and Alan Yocca were the top boys runners at the season-opening Gateway Invitational on Sept. 1, and Ionta said he expects them to be at the heart of the boys squad on Tuesday.

Seniors Gina Valotta, Jordan Rupp, Mia Pietropola and Courtney Liberatore; juniors Chrissy Joyce and Carly Izydore; and sophomore Abby Sebunia paced the girls team at the Gateway Invitational.

Ionta said Rupp has been battling through injury and is working to be prepared for the section championship meet, while freshman Ana Benitez is back after missing about a month with an injury.

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

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