After sitting out, Eden Christian runner eager to compete for WPIAL cross country gold

Saturday, October 14, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The only running Nathan Garrett did at last year’s WPIAL cross country championships was to urge on his Eden Christian teammates.

He will be much busier this year.

Ineligible for last year’s postseason after transferring from Hampton, Garrett will enter the 2023 WPIAL Class A championships Oct. 26 as one of the favorites in the race.

Garrett, a Hampton resident and a senior at the Sewickley private school, has racked up impressive wins this fall. He defended his title in the Class A division at the Red, White & Blue Classic on Sept. 9 at White Oak Park, the site of this year’s WPIAL championships. He also placed first among 194 runners in the Blue Devil Invitational on Sept. 23 in Sharon with 3.1-mile time of 15 minutes, 41 seconds.

“It’s going great,” Garrett said. “I’m really liking where I’m at. I’m still trying to improve for the playoffs, but it’s been a good start to the year.”

Garrett knows about good starts. As a sophomore, he was part of Hampton’s 2021 WPIAL Class 2A cross country championship team, placing 12th overall and second among Talbots’ runners. He enrolled at Eden Christian prior to his junior year but was declared ineligible by the WPIAL because of the timing of the transfer.

“It was hard,” Eden Christian coach Kelly Gronbeck said. “I was really sad for him. He came to the WPIAL meet and he came to the state meet and was a super supportive teammate. He was cheering and running around.”

While Garrett’s former Hampton teammates are overwhelming favorites to win their third consecutive WPIAL Class 2A title, Eden Christian is looking for its first crown. The Warriors placed a program-best third in 2021. They took fourth last year, with Garrett on the sidelines.

Garrett said leaving Hampton — a reigning WPIAL champ set to return its top seven runners — was not easy. But he doesn’t regret the move.

“It was such a difficult decision,” he said. “I loved my teachers and my friends at Hampton. It was a great environment. I just think being at a small Christian school was a better environment. I’m really happy with my decision.”

Garrett said he still doesn’t fully understand the logic behind the WPIAL’s ruling.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I didn’t transfer for athletic purposes. It really didn’t make too much sense, on paper, for me to leave that team for this school. But I’m still OK with whatever they ruled. It was just kind of frustrating not being able to run.”

To prepare himself for his final high school season, Garrett increased his offseason training to 50 miles a week, up from 35. The boosted endurance showed at the Blue Devil Invitational, as he tracked down front-running Quaker Valley junior Clark LaLomia (15:45) in the final 1,600 meters.

Gronbeck, in her 11th season at the school, said the 5-foot-11, 145-pound Garrett uses a combination of natural ability and work ethic to excel in the sport.

“He’s naturally gifted. He’s got a great stride. He’s got a great attitude. He handles the pressure well. He’s not afraid to work hard,” Gronbeck said. “It’s just been really fun to watch him have success.”

Garrett is scheduled to race against his former Hampton teammates at the John Sample Invitational on Oct. 7 in Grove City. Less than three weeks later, he will try to become the third consecutive runner from Eden Christian to win the WPIAL Class A title, joining graduated two-time champ Sean Aiken. The top returning runner is Mohawk junior Jaxon Schoedel, the WPIAL Class A runner-up last season.

If all goes well, Garrett and his Eden Christian teammates will hoist their first team trophy, while his former Hampton teammates and still-close friends complete their three-peat.

“I’m looking forward to it, for sure,” Garrett said. “It’s going to be a great day there.”


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