Kiski Area's Kennedy wins WPIAL cross country title
On an unseasonably hot day that caused fatigue among some runners, Kiski Area junior Brent Kennedy and Fox Chapel junior Ethan Martin sprinted within a few strides of each other at the front of the pack.
But Kennedy held off Martin's heated challenge, pulled away in the final 200 meters and iced his first WPIAL Class AAA championship Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.
Kennedy won the 3.1-mile race with a time of 15 minutes, 59 seconds, finishing five seconds ahead of Martin.
“He's a great competitor,” Kennedy said about Martin. “He wants to win just as bad as anybody. He's in my section, so we race a lot, and we race in track. And he's in my grade, so I'm sure there's more great competition ahead.”
Martin briefly surged ahead with about 500 meters left, but Kennedy quickly pulled into the lead again and widened the distance in the final 200 meters.
“I went into the race knowing I wanted to kick with Brent,” Martin said. “But he was able to pull away at the end. It's kind of bittersweet.”
There was consolation for Martin. He helped lead Fox Chapel (136 points) to a second-place finish in the Class AAA team standings behind perennial power North Allegheny (50), which won its eighth consecutive championship. The top three teams qualified for next week's state championships in Hershey. Kiski Area earned sixth place.
Martin's twin brother, Colin, finished fifth (16:20), senior James Humphrey took 23rd (17:03), sophomore Elias Graca placed 43rd (17:38), and senior John Shymansky ended up 63rd (17:53).
“They've been training super hard and smart,” Fox Chapel coach Tom Moul said. “With Ethan, you expect that top-level performance. But for Colin to climb to fifth was impressive, too. And our third-place guy ran the race of his life. That was huge for us.”
The Knoch girls claimed third place in Class AA after competing in AAA last year, and was the only other team to earn a trip to the states.
The Knights' top five finishers were freshmen Abby Jones (14th, 21:16) and Mandi Moxie (16th, 21:21), senior Tena Pettit (20th, 21:53), freshman Mandy Hunt (24th, 21:43), and sophomore Ashlyn Carlsson (36th, 22:18).
“The whole team is ecstatic,” Moxie said.
The youth of Knoch's squad has produced optimism for the future.
“They're definitely a team to keep an eye on in the coming years,” Knoch coach Wess Brahler said.
Despite dealing with a head cold, Freeport senior Kayla Zboran took seventh (20:40) in AA and was the highest finishing local girl in the three championship races.
However, Freeport's team dropped from third place in AA last year to sixth this season.
The Yellowjackets faced a new challenge — the WPIAL added a third classification, and several larger schools were moved from AAA to AA. Zboran said if there were still only two classes, Freeport probably would have qualified for states.
“The district changed, and we have a lot of other bigger schools to compete against,” Zboran said.
In the boys' AA race, Knoch sophomore Preston Carlsson burst from the start line and earned fifth place (17:15).
“I ran fast and hard at the start,” Carlsson said. “For a long time, I was in second place. I started to get passed with about 1,000 meters left (just after the two-mile mark). I felt like I started the race just right. I felt strong.”
In the newly created Class A, Riverview freshman Molly Kennedy claimed 10th place (21:17) and qualified for states.
Kennedy also plays volleyball and decided to join the cross country team just before the season.
She and her volleyball teammates were running outside during preseason conditioning when she saw the cross country squad, sparking her interest.
“I don't really know any terms for cross country,” Kennedy said.
“My teammates have been so supportive. They believed in me from the start. This has been my first two months running. I had never competed in track or cross country.”
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.