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High School Sports

North Hills CC hopes to take first WPIAL title since '79

| Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003

North Hills' boys cross country coach John Wilkie will find out this afternoon if all of his runners will be able to compete in today's WPIAL championship at Slippery Rock University. The Indians dominated every meet so far this year, with or without all of its members, and are the favorites to take the team title.

The Indians' No. 3 man Ian Shreckengast has been battling a stomach flu for the past several weeks -- sending him to the hospital at least once. It forced him to miss the Tri-State Invitational and set him back considerably in the Central Catholic Invite. But even without Shreckengast, the Indians cruised through those meets winning by 55 and 48 points respectively over second place Mt. Lebanon.

"We'll make the decision (today) whether he'll run," Wilkie said. "He's been making progress. Taking him out of the lineup certainly hurts, but we proved we can win without him. We're prepared to go either way."

The WPIAL cross country championship will cover the 3.1-mile course starting with the girls Class AA race at 2:30 p.m. Girls AAA will follow at 3 p.m., boys AA at 3:30 p.m. and boys AAA will run at 4 p.m.

The top four teams in each classification and the top 20 individual runners not on those teams will advance to the PIAA championships Nov. 1 in Hershey.

Shreckengast is determined to run today and assured his teammates he will.

"I am going to run (today)," the senior said. "I'm pretty much back to form where I was before."

If North Hills wins, it would be its first team title in over two decades.

North Hills is a deep team led by Ian Fitzgerald, Josh Eddy, Shreckengast, Pat Velliky, Mike Haley, Dan Tallarico and Brennan O'Hare. The Indians were ranked eighth in the Northeast region earlier in the year by The Harrier magazine. North Hills hasn't won a boys WPIAL cross country team championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1978-79.

Fitzgerald and Mt. Lebanon's James O'Toole have battled for first and second place at four invitationals this season. Each has two wins, but O'Toole won the last two races.

"I'm not nervous, maybe anxious to run," Fitzgerald said. "I've been waiting for this meet for three months. It all comes down to this and states. I just have to make sure I stick with him (O'Toole)."

Mt. Lebanon, the defending WPIAL Class AAA champs for both boys and girls, has been consistently second behind North Hills in boys races and North Allegheny in girls races.

North Allegheny coach Jim LeDonne said his girls couldn't wait for today's meet. The Tigers' had faced some anxiety of their own. Top runners Amy Ruffolo and Kelley O'Brien both battled illnesses throughout the year.

"This is the first time in a while they're all healthy," LeDonne said. "The girls are excited to run all together."

Before last year, the North Allegheny girls won the previous five WPIAL team titles.

Individually, Kaitlin Grimm of Penn Hills, Melissa Umbel of Indiana, Bethel Park's Kate Vaughn and Latrobe's Liz Brickley are among the contenders to win the Class AAA title.

WPIAL cross country championships

When: girls' Class AA: 2:30 p.m., girls' AAA: 3 p.m., boys' AA: 3:30 p.m., boys' AAA 4 p.m.

Where: Slippery Rock University

Runners to watch: Girls -- Kaitlin Grimm, Penn Hills, Kate Vaughn, Bethel Park, Melissa Umbel, Indiana, Liz Brickley, Latrobe, Julie Dickhans, Quaker Valley.

Boys -- Ian Fitzgerald, Josh Eddy, both of North Hills, James O'Toole, Mt. Lebanon, Tom Slosky, Highlands, Zach Thomas, Quaker Valley

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