Gateway runners to compete at annual Tri-State meet
The championship season for cross country takes a big step forward Thursday as teams big and small from all over western Pennsylvania descend on Cooper's Lake Campground outside of Slippery Rock for the Tri-State Coaches Association Championships.
The WPIAL teams are expected to get a good feel for the Cooper's Lake course with the WPIAL championships there on Oct. 25.
Gateway will be in the mix, and head coach Tom LaBuff said he is not worrying about how his runners stack up against the other teams as much as he wants to see improvements in time and how they maneuver around the course.
For a couple of the Gators runners, it will be their first time on the Cooper's Lake course.
“Both teams have really focused in on these races,” LaBuff said. “With small teams, it was more difficult (in the dual meets).”
The Tri-State boys race will be at 4 p.m., and the girls race will be at 4:30. A combined JV race will be at 5.
LaBuff said 65 to 70 teams with up to 10 runners on a team will be in the field for each race.
“It will not be as crowded at WPIALs next week, especially with three races,” LaBuff said.
For the first time, the WPIAL will break the boys and girls fields into three classifications — AAA, AA and A — for the championships.
Gateway senior Tyler Palenchak led the boys team at the Tri-State meet last year, and he hopes to continue to get back to top form Thursday.
LaBuff said Palenchak donated blood about three weeks ago, and the removal of red blood cells often will reduce the ability of the blood to use oxygen. That can affect a runner's endurance and make him or her slower.
LaBuff said Palenchak's times have gone down the past couple of weeks, and he finished 34th at last week's Mingo Classic with a time of 17:40.
“Tyler is running a lot better,” LaBuff said. “He's getting back to where he was before. He wants to run a good race (Thursday).”
Senior Jordan Landfair led Gateway at Mingo with a 24th-place finish (17:25).
Landfair twisted an ankle during a workout on Saturday, and, LaBuff said, he wasn't sure if Landfair would be able to compete at Tri-States despite therapy efforts that included ice and rest.
Senior Ben Farina and freshman Liam Connelly finished 36th and 37th, respectively, at Mingo, while freshman Jose Figueroa came in 45th for the Gators, who placed sixth in the team standings.
On the girls side, junior Tamisha Williams was Gateway's lone medalist, as she placed 10th overall (20:54).
“Tamisha ran really well,” LaBuff said. “It was a tough (girls) field at Mingo.”
Fellow junior Tameka Williams was 31st (21:51).
LaBuff said freshman Katie Heasley, who led the Gateway girls runners earlier this season, continues to work back into form after a leg injury took away about a month of practice and competitions.
“She's doing everything she can to recover,” LaBuff said. “She has a great attitude.”
LaBuff said the attitude of the whole team has been great this season, from the seniors to the freshman, and he is looking forward to what the rest of the season holds.
“It's been a pleasure to coach the boys and girls teams this year,” LaBuff said. “They have worked so hard.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.