Alle-Kiski cross country teams, individuals ready to make their mark

Friday, August 30, 2019 | 6:47 PM

Christian Fitch began last season with a win at the Gateway Invitational.

The Fox Chapel senior cross country runner capped it with a third-place finish in the WPIAL Class AAA race before placing fifth at the PIAA meet in Hershey.

Fitch hopes for a similar start to this season as he, along with runners from Kiski Area, Riverview and Plum return to Boyce Park on Saturday for this year’s Gateway Invitational.

“Christian was great leader all summer,” Fox Chapel coach Tom Moul said. “He’s the only senior on the boys team. He’s done a great job of pulling the guys along.”

About 30 miles away, competitors from Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport and Knoch will test their mettle at the Marty Uher Invitational at Cal (Pa.), the site of the WPIAL championship meet Oct. 24.

The Alle-Kiski Valley is full of experienced teams and individuals in the hunt for top finishes at the big meets and other events.

As is the case every year, young runners are ready to break out and make their mark locally, regionally and throughout the state.

“I am really focused right now and ready to run well,” said Knoch senior Sammy Jo Barnes, who finished sixth in last year’s WPIAL Class AA girls race and helped the Lady Knights place 10th.

The Knoch girls return its top six runners from last year as they eye a Section 4-AA title and more.

“I think there are good things to come. We hope all the hard work continues to pay off,” Barnes said.

The Knoch boys, ninth at WPIALs last season, also hope to make their move up the ladder in Class AA as six of its top seven runners are back, including senior Braden Zukowski, a state-qualifier.

“I expect big things out of the boys and girls teams,” veteran Knoch coach Wess Brahler said. “They all had a great summer of training. They can’t wait to get started.”

Fitch and the Fox Chapel boys placed fifth at WPIALs last season. The Foxes hope to be in the mix again as five of the top seven are back.

Fitch said he again expects a battle in the individual race with returning WPIAL champion Daniel McGoey, a senior from North Allegheny, and runner-up Patrick Anderson, a senior from Mt. Lebanon. The three will first meet Sept. 7 at the Red, White & Blue Invitational at Schenley Park.

“Running against the best in the state every weekend, iron sharpens iron,” Fitch said. “We make each other better. We really push each other.”

The Fox Chapel girls placed third in the WPIAL Class AAA race last year and were fifth at states, and senior Grace Sisson is back after placing fourth individually at WPIALs and ninth at the PIAA meet.

“She’s been training really well and looks good,” Moul said. “She has interest in several Division I schools. We’re excited to see her perform.”

Fellow senior Brooke Krally also returns for Fox Chapel after an individual 20th at WPIALs.

The Riverview boys and girls both hope to make it back to states in 2019.

The boys team went undefeated to win last year’s Section 4-AA title, and it finished as runner-up in the WPIAL Class A team race for the third year in a row behind individual finishes from juniors Mason Ochs (fourth) and Gideon Deasy (ninth).

It was Riverview’s fourth straight trip to states, and it tied a school record with an eighth-place finish. The Raiders, who return six top runners, are expected to battle again with defending WPIAL Class A champion Winchester Thurston.

“We’re going to run our best and see what happens,” said Ochs, who participated this summer in an Olympic Development cross country camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Sophomore Lucas Wilton contributed to Riverview’s runner-up finish with an individual 15th in his WPIAL debut.

“Winchester is really good, but we’re pretty good, too,” Ochs said. “I think, coming back, it should be close, but you never know. We just have to worry about what we can control and go from there.

The Riverview girls also went undefeated to win the Section 4-AA title and placed fourth in the WPIAL Class A race to make it to states.

The Raiders return five of their top seven runners as they run for another PIAA trip among Class A contenders North Catholic, Vincentian, OLSH and Winchester Thurston.

“Having five back puts a little pressure on us because as happy as we were to do so well last year, we want to repeat that again,” said senior Marina Pietz, who placed 17th at WPIALs last year.

Junior Ally Johnson returns after taking 31st at WPIALs.

“I think with so many back and a lot of incoming freshmen running so well, I am excited to see what the season holds for us,” Pietz said.

Highlands senior CJ Thimons qualified for the state meet the past two seasons. He took 21st in the Class AA boys race at WPIALs two years ago and was the final at-large Class AA individual qualifier to states last year with a 29th-place finish.

Plum senior Angela Valotta and Kiski Area sophomore Josie Plazio also return after earning Alle-Kiski coaches first-team all-star honors last year.

Fox Chapel, Kiski Area and Plum, all back in Class AAA, will run together in Section 4 of Division I, while a locally-loaded Section 4 in Division II – with teams from Class A and AA – will feature matchups between Riverview and Knoch, as well as Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport and Highlands.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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