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Franklin Regional cross country squads open at Red, White & Blue Classic

Michael Love
| Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, 2:45 p.m.

The Franklin Regional boys and girls cross country teams open their seasons Saturday at the annual Red, White & Blue Classic at Schenley Park, and head coach Jim Passarelli said he hopes his runners can have performances that reflect the hard work they put in during preseason workouts.

“The kids are really ready for the season to start and see how they stack up against the top runners in and out of the WPIAL,” Passarelli said.

Passarelli said both teams have a mix of returning and new talent and should be in the running for the Section 1-AAA team championships.

The Franklin Regional boys are hoping to defend their 2014 section title after going 7-0 in section meets last year.

The girls squad sported a 5-2 record last fall, and Passarelli said he hopes the team can turn around losses to Norwin and Hempfield.

“There's so much parity in the section, especially on the boys side,” Passarelli said.

“There are so many good runners back in the section. The boys stepped up last year. When the girls see how good they can be, I know they will step up, too.”

The Franklin Regional boys enter the season as the defending WCCA champions as they won their first county title last year.

The girls squad entered last year's WCCA race with five varsity runners, but one had to drop out because of an injury, so they were not eligible for a place in the team standings.

The FR girls squad was 17th in the AAA standings at WPIALs last year.

The top three runners at WPIALs, sophomore Sterling Simek and seniors Katja Kochvar and Grace Pekarcik, are back to lead the team. Simek finished 28th, five places behind the final individual state qualifier.

“We don't know what to expect yet, even though things have progressed nicely,” Passarelli said.

“At the end of last year, we knew we were going to be pretty good as a team. Saturday will be a nice test.”

Senior Bria McMahon, Passarelli said, is back to 100 percent after nagging injuries hampered her junior season and kept her from competing at WPIALs.

McMahon is doubling up this fall, as she also has returned to the Franklin Regional girls soccer team.

“We're keeping an eye on her,” Passarelli said. “It's a tough double for her to do, and we want to make sure her fitness stays up and she's not getting run down. She is showing good form right now, and she's so diligent in her workouts that doing both sports shouldn't be a problem.”

Passarelli said the competition is high for those fifth, six and seventh runners. He said a couple of freshmen have shown promise and could make an impact along with a number of returning runners.

“(Senior) Laura (Fritz) and (junior) Maddy (Gianvito) ran at WPIALs last year, and they are working hard,” Passarelli said. “I am excited to see them progress.”

There are more than 60 boys and girls runners combined on this year's roster.

Brett Trottier, 16th at WPIALs last year and a state qualifier, moved on because of graduation.

Mark Provenzo, a junior this year, is expected to pace the Panthers efforts in meets and invitationals. He was 41st at WPIALs in 2014.

“Mark is coming off a good track season in the spring,” Passarelli said.

“Last year was a learning curve for him in cross country. After WPIALs last year, he knows how to run against the top runners. He's ready to take that next step.”

Sophomores Hunter Fishell and Matt Busche were the third and fourth FR boys at WPIALs last year, and Passarelli said he hopes both can build on last year's successes.

“Hunter and Matt both are doing pretty well, and we'll be counting on them if we have hopes of winning the section,” Passarelli said.

Passarelli said he also is counting on sophomore Thomas Franey to step into an increased role on varsity this season.

Newcomer Tuukka Horkko, an exchange student from Finland, and junior Gus Solomon, are among those hoping to make an impact.

“Tuukka ran the 200 and 400 on his track team in Finland, but he is looking good on these longer runs,” Passarelli said.

Solomon is well known as being a nationally ranked wrestler and a key member of the Panthers squad that won WPIAL and state team titles this past winter.

“Gus is working through a nagging leg injury right now, but he's able to work through it,” Passarelli said.

“His doctor is making sure it's nothing serious. We don't want it to affect his wrestling season.”

FR runners loaded up the top 15 places at the WCCA junior varsity meet last year, and Passarelli said some of those runners hope to make that jump to varsity.

Saturday's Red, White & Blue Classic at Schenley Park is slated to begin with the JV girls at 8 a.m.

The AA-A boys race is at 8:40, followed by the AAA girls race at 9:15.

The JV boys (9:55), AA-A girls (10:30) and AAA boys (11:10) races will conclude the competition, and awards will be presented at 12:15 p.m.

Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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