Apollo-Ridge’s Gabe Kavulic will cap 1st foray into cross country at PIAA championships

Friday, November 4, 2022 | 7:01 PM

Gabe Kavulic didn’t run cross country last year as a freshman.

It was soccer with the Apollo-Ridge-Leechburg co-op all the way.

But following a promising track and field season in the distance events last spring, the Apollo-Ridge sophomore was encouraged to give cross country a shot.

Kavulic became a two-sport athlete this fall, and the new addition to his resume has yielded an opportunity on high school running’s biggest stage.

He will join a group of more than 200 runners in the Class A boys race at Saturday’s PIAA cross country championships in Hershey.

“Having never run that course, I don’t know what to expect,” Kavulic said. “I am just going to go out and try to run faster than I did last week and see what happens. I am pretty excited.”

As Apollo-Ridge cross country is not an official team sport within the WPIAL, only one boys and one girls runner is permitted to compete at WPIALs.

Kavulic took full advantage of his opportunity, placing 13th overall Oct. 27 with a season-best time of 17 minutes, 56.4 seconds on the Roadman Park course at Cal (Pa.).

“It really started to sink in after the race when my coach (Bob Desiderato) texted some of the staff at the school, and they sent congratulations,” he said.

“It really hit me when they called my name to come up and get my medal. I thought about all of the hard work and the miles in the summertime, and how far I’ve come. I also thought of my teammates and everyone else who helped me and supported me. It was a great feeling.”

Kavulic got his first taste of cross country competition in an early-season meet on Burrell’s home course.

“I was happy with how I ran that day, but I was nowhere near where I am now,” he said. “I feel that as the season progressed, I learned a lot about running different courses and just being able to push myself in the second half of a race, knowing I will get through it. It comes down to being mentally focused throughout a race.”

Kavulic also placed 17th overall (18:22.5) at the Kiski Invitational in September at Northmoreland Park. He was 24th at the midway point of the race but then made his move.

Kavulic also was third at the Indiana County Meet at IUP’s South Campus course.

The PIAA races Saturday begin with the Class A girls at 11 a.m. followed by the Class 2A girls at 11:45, and the Class 3A girls at 12:30 p.m. The boys races begin with Class A at 1:15 followed by Class 2A at 2, and Class 3A at 2:45.

A second chance

Plum senior Connor Pivirotto placed 20th in the boys Class 3A race at WPIALs with a time of 17:23.5. He was the 11th individual finisher not on one of the two qualifying teams.

Under this year’s reduced qualifying numbers to the PIAA meet — two teams and 10 individuals — he was the first one out.

But thanks to the Moon boys soccer team, Pivirotto has new life.

The No. 1 Tigers will play Ambridge for the WPIAL Class 3A title at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Senior Jacob Puhalla finished seventh at the WPIAL cross country championships. He also is a member of Moon soccer team.

Puhalla, a past state qualifier, will play in the soccer match Saturday, so he scratched out of PIAA cross country. As a result, Pivirotto was presented with the opportunity to run at Hershey, and he accepted.

“It certainly was a swing from one emotional extreme to the other, for sure,” Plum coach Stephanie Kennedy said.

“We’re just so grateful that the opportunity arose. Connor is one of the most deserving kids who gets to go to this meet. He’s worked so hard for it, and I am so happy he gets the chance to race and be on that big stage.”

Double down

Riverview is one of six schools to send both its boys and girls teams to the PIAA meet, joining North Allegheny, Uniontown, Montour, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and Winchester Thurston. Both Raiders teams were Class A third-place finishers at WPIALs.

The Riverview boys, fronted by senior Amberson Bauer (fourth at WPIALs) and sophomore Chris Barnes (ninth), will run at states for the seventh time in the last eight years. Despite a runner-up finish in 2020, they missed out when PIAA covid logistics limited the qualifiers to just the district champs.

The Raider girls, led by sophomore Lily Bauer and junior Gwyn Fichte, 2021 individual state qualifiers, will run at states for the first time since 2018.

Riverview owns 18 combined PIAA team qualifications since 2000.

Alle-Kiski Valley well represented

Kiski Area junior Eliza Miller finished 10th in WPIAL Class 3A, and she will run at the PIAA championships for the third time with hopes of cracking the top 10 after taking 11th last year and 30th as a freshman in 2020.

Conversely, Freeport sophomore Michael Braun will run in Hershey for the first time after placing 11th (17:02.1) in boys Class 2A at WPIALs. He was 31st in his WPIAL debut last year.

They are two in a well-represented area group on the state’s biggest cross country stage.

Fox Chapel boys qualifiers — junior Rowan Gwin, seventh at WPIALs; and sophomore Ethan Vaughan, 14th at WPIALs — ran as part of the Foxes team in last year’s PIAA Class 3A boys race.

Freshman Sam Plazio, 17th in the boys Class 2A race WPIALs, and junior Paul Roberts, 24th, will represent the Kiski Area boys and run at states for the first time.

Also making their PIAA debut, running in the Class A boys race, are Burrell senior Levi Hass (21st at WPIALs) and Bucs junior Alex Platt (24th).

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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