Belle Vernon has historic day at WPIAL cross country championships

Thursday, October 27, 2022 | 8:41 PM

It was an historic day for the Belle Vernon cross country team Thursday at the WPIAL championships.

For the first time in school history, the Leopards had three runners qualify for the PIAA cross country meet Nov. 5 in Hershey.

Senior Luke Henderson placed eighth in the Class 2A boys’ race at Roadman Park at Cal (Pa.) while junior Tessa Rodriguez was 13th and senior Rosalyn Perozzi was 18th in the girls race.

Ringgold junior Ryan Pajak won his second consecutive boys’ title and Brownsville senior Jolena Quarzo won her third girls title.

“This is huge for the program,” Rodriguez said. “Hopefully this is a start for great things. I was pleased with how I performed. I definitely ran faster.”

Perozzi agreed that the finish is a boost for the program.

“I was really happy to qualify for states,” Perozzi said. “I’m proud for the team.”

Henderson is the first Belle Vernon boys runner to maker states since John Kerekes in 2000.

“I wanted to go out fast and finish strong,” Henderson said. “It feels good to qualify for the state meet.”

Latrobe also had three runners advance to states. Senior August Lawrence qualified in the 2A boys race and sophomores Emerson Skatell and Carley Berk qualified in the girls 3A race. Lawrence placed 19th while Skatell finished ninth and Berk was 27th.

“My race went really well,” Skatell said. “I tried to pace myself with the top girls and tried to work off of them. I had a better time this week than I did last week at Tri-State.”

Skatell was able to cut 20 seconds off her time in a week.

“There was a lot of good competition here,” Skatell said. “They pushed me to do well.”

Berk ended up being the final qualifier. The WPIAL takes the top 15 individuals in Class 3A not affiliated with the top three girls teams in to advance. She placed 27th.

“I’m pretty excited to make it for the first time,” Berk said. “I was hoping for a top 30 finish and improve my time and I did both.”

Lawrence said his hard work over the past four seasons finally paid off.

“Qualifying for states is what I’ve been working towards,” Lawrence said. “It was my biggest goal. I just want to do my best at states.”

Other Westmoreland County qualifiers includes Greensburg Salem senior Aaron Tressler (15th in Class 2A), Southmoreland sophomore Lexi Ohler (23rd in 2A), Penn-Trafford junior Amelia Barilla (13th in 3A), Norwin freshman Annie Czajkowski (21st in 3A), Ligonier Valley’s Clara Wallace (14th in A) and Greensburg Central Catholic’s Jonah Althof (21st in A).

Ohler said she ran 42 seconds faster than her freshman season and finished seven spots higher.

“I was a little nervous because I wasn’t feeling well,” Ohler said. “I’m very happy with how I ran and I’m definitely looking forward to states.”

Barilla said he was able to score a personal record at Cal (Pa.) and felt she did OK.

“I hoped to do a little better,” Barilla said. “I did a lot better than my sophomore season.”

Czajkowski said she was pleased with her overall performance.

“When I ran here at the Marty Uher Invitational, I didn’t even finish because of the heat,” Czajkowski said. “This this was definitely a better day and I’m happy.”

Last year at WPIALs on the Roadman Park course, Wallace placed 20th in the girls Class A race.

Her goal as a junior this fall was to return to Hershey and move up the standings. Mission accomplished on both accounts.

Wallace cut nearly 40 seconds from last year’s time Thursday and moved up seven spots to 14th.

“This is really exciting,” said Wallace shortly after receiving her top-15 medal. “I had so many nerves going into it, but I am really happy to be going back (to states). I am grateful for everyone who has helped me get to where I am today.”

Hempfield senior Owen DeMatt, a veteran of the Roadman Course, placed 22nd overall in the Class 3A boys race with a time of 17:29.9, nearly a minute and 16 places better than his 2021 WPIAL performance.

Normally that would be good enough for a trip to states, but the PIAA reduced the number of team and individual qualifiers this year. The top two teams and top 10 individuals not on one of the qualifying teams advance in the 3A boys race this year.

DeMatt was the 13th individual to cross the finish line.

“I think I ran really well,” he said. “I was hoping to go fast through the beginning down that downhill. On that uphill, I just wanted to get through it. I started my kick pretty early so I could catch some people at the finish line.

“This would’ve been my first trip to states. I just got snubbed by the year.”

Butler’s Drew Griffith was the Class 3A boys winner and Mt. Lebanon’s Logan St. John Kletter won the Class 3A girls. The Class A winners were Eden Christian’s Sean Aiken and Shady Side Academy’s Chelsea Hartman.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at


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