Susalla claims boys varsity title at Gateway Invitational
Jake Susalla finished third at last year's season-opening Gateway Invitiational, placing just behind the dominant duo of Fox Chapel's Ethan and Colin Martin.
On Saturday, the Plum junior had a goal of taking first in his return to the challenging Boyce Park course with its hilly features.
When it was all said and done, Susalla was wearing gold with a first-place time of 17 minutes, 28 seconds.
He is the first Plum champion of the boys varsity race in the close to three decades of the Gateway Invitational, said Plum head coach Joe Ionta.
“That was truly a great feat. We want to make sure we are careful with him because of his past injury problems, but he ran really well and very smart,” Ionta said.
“We're looking for some great things from him this year if he continues to run healthy. I think he is one of the top runners in the WPIAL right now.”
Susalla outdistanced Baldwin's Casey Conboy by 14 seconds, and West Allegheny's Zack White placed third, 22 seconds behind Susalla.
On the girls side, junior Rachel Valotta edged out a pair of Bethel Park runners for fifth place.
Fifth was decided by tenths of a second, and Valotta came in with a time of 21:59.2, while Bethel Park's Karissa Coffield was sixth in 21:59.7.
Coffield's teammate, Dani Hinish, placed seventh (21:59.9).
Valotta's time was a minute better than her finish last year as a sophomore.
“Rachel did very well,” Ionta said.
“She has really moved to the next level this year. (Fifth place) is an outstanding accomplishment considering all of the strong runners who were in the race with her.”
The Plum boys finished eighth in the team standings, and John Raggiunti was the next Mustangs finisher behind Susalla with a 26th place in a time of 19:41.
“Gateway's course is very challenging, one of the most challenging they will run all season,” Ionta said.
Freshman Chris Izydore capped a Plum sweep of the boys varsity and JV races as he finished the JV event first with a time of 20:36.
His time would've placed him as the third Plum runner in the varsity race and 38th overall.
Izydore, Ionta said, split time between soccer and cross country in junior high but now is concentrating on running.
“We think he can break out and have a great season with more experience,” Ionta said.
“To have two individual winners out of four races is very special.”
Plum's next four girls varsity runners after Valotta each placed in the top 50. Josie Diclaudio was 30th (24:23), and Maddie Biertempfel (35th), Kayla Anderson (39th) and Claire Klippel (46) all contributed to the varsity fourth-place team score.
“The teams can be happy with their accomplishments, but they can't be satisfied,” Ionta said.
“It was a really nice opening meet to help us see where we are and what we can work on. Our goal is to always run well as a team. The team effort was great on both parts, and we need to use that to our advantage.”
The Plum teams were slated to host Avella and Penn-Trafford on Tuesday at their home course in Boyce Park. The meet was to be run past the deadline for this week's edition.
The Mustangs are preparing for the Section 4 championship meet on Sept. 30 with a dual meet against Woodland Hills next Wednesday at Boyce Park and the Uniontown Invitational at Penn State-Fayette's Campus on Sept. 27.�