Butler’s Drew Griffith battles cold to win another WPIAL title; Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak claims 3rd

Thursday, October 26, 2023 | 8:41 PM

One of the first individuals to greet Butler senior Drew Griffith after he won the WPIAL Class 3A cross country title Thursday at White Oak Park was Class 3A girls winner Logan St. John Kletter of Mt. Lebanon.

The two have something in common, not only is the duo two-time WPIAL champions, they are dating.

While Griffith was hoping to break his own state record, he came short because he developed a cold Monday.

Griffith, who won his first title at Cal (Pa.) in 2022, is the fourth consecutive runner from Butler to win the title. C.J. Singleton won in 2020 and 2021.

His winning time was 15 minutes, 5.20 seconds. His record time is 14:21.00 set on Oct. 14 at the MileStats.Com Cross Country Invitational at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Va.

“I was too bad,” Griffith said about his time. “I was all right with that because I didn’t feel too good coming to this. I was pretty happy with that.

“I came down with a bad cold, and my throat was hurting badly. I was just tripping through and trying to get to the finish. It still was a tough race.”

Griffith helped the Butler boys to a second-place finish behind North Allegheny, which won its sixth-consecutive title and 34th in school history. The Tigers have won 17 of the past 19 titles.

North Allegheny finished with 59 points and Butler 67.

“It was a very good day for both sides,” North Allegheny coach Jeff Neff said. “The beat goes on.”

Placing second was North Allegheny junior Jack Bertram. He was followed by Fox Chapel’s Rowan Gwin, Butler’s Owen Dressler, South Fayette’s Alaa-Eddine Guetari, North Allegheny’s Michael Gauntner, Plum’s Gabriel Powell, North Allegheny’s James Behrend, Fox Chapel’s David Black and Gateway’s Kefimba Cisse.

The only Westmoreland County boy in Class 3A to advance to states was Norwin’s Enzo Jiancristoforo, who placed 15th.

“My run was a good learning experience,” Bertram said. “We’ve run here a couple times, so it was good to learn which race strategy works the best.

“Winning the team title is part of our legacy. We just go out and try to win. Our strategy was to go out and do what we do the best.”

Class 2A boys

Winning an individual WPIAL cross country title once is hard enough. Winning it twice puts a runner into good company. Three times? That means elevation to the elite tier, joining only one other boys runner to accomplish the feat in WPIAL history.

Etching his name alongside Quaker Valley’s Zach Skolnekovich is now three-time WPIAL champion Ryan Pajak of Ringgold.

“It feels great,” Pajak said. “I definitely wanted to win it my freshman year, but I’m happy to get it for a third year in a row. It means a lot.”

Racing at White Oak Park certainly provided some new challenges for runners in the championship races. Nonetheless, Pajak cruised to a course record time of 15:04.

“It’s definitely faster,” Pajak said. “It’s all downhill the first mile, so trying to get back up those hills and regroup your legs is definitely a little bit weird.”

Pajak outraced Hampton’s Dale Hall (15:37.1), Montour’s Julian Kletz (15:41.3), Hampton’s Christopher Belch (16:03.1) and Laurel Highlands’ Matt Schwertfeger to round out the top five.

The Notre Dame commit will head to Hershey looking to win his first individual state title. He will have to compete against future teammate Colin Whitaker of Lampeter-Strasburg.

“It’ll be much harder,” Pajak said. “(Whitaker) is going to be more challenging than this field today, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Also heading to Hershey will be the Hampton boys team as it captured its third consecutive title with 59 points.

Beaver (119), Quaker Valley (129) and Montour (155) also will make the trip to the PIAA meet.

Class A boys

Entering the WPIAL championships, Mohawk’s Jaxon Schoedel had the opportunity to do something his school has been waiting nearly 50 years for, an individual WPIAL cross country champion.

Before the smoke from the officials gun even dissipated, it was only a matter of time before Schoedel found a lead and held onto it through the 5,000-meter course at White Oak Park.

With a time of 15:40.9, Schoedel became Mohawk’s first individual WPIAL cross country champion since 1975.

“It means a lot to me to represent my school that way,” Schoedel said. “I love where I come from even though we are a very small school. We have a great community, so that means a lot.”

This time last year, Schoedel placed second, 11 seconds behind the frontrunner, Eden Christian’s Sean Aiken. The junior knew he again would have to battle a group of Eden Christian runners for the title.

“I knew that I would have two gentlemen from Eden Christian, who are actually buddies of mine, to race against today,” Schoedel said. “I knew it would be faster than TSTCA, but it still wasn’t quite the time I hoped, but it was definitely a fun race. It was a strategic race to sit with them at first and then move away.”

Eden Christian’s Ethan Haring placed second. Greensburg Central Catholic’s Nick Szekely, Winchester Thurston’s Eli DeSimone and Neshannock’s Brendan Burns rounded out the top five.

Before the race, there was some uncertainty as to who would pull away with the team crown. As the race progressed, it became clear that Riverview was going to lead the pack just like the Raiders did last week on the same course in the Tri-State event.

Riverview finished with 64 points as it ousted Eden Christian (80), Ellwood City (133) and Winchester Thurston (146), who all qualified for the PIAA meet.

“I can’t say enough about these boys. They’ve been dedicated since the beginning of the summer,” Riverview coach Palma Ostrowski said. “The teams we are competing against are premiere programs. We knew it could have been one of multiple teams. It makes this win that much sweeter because we have so much respect for our competitors.”

More Cross Country

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A-K Valley Senior Spotlight: Riverview’s Gwyn Fichte
Plan comes together for Pine-Richland sophomore in cross country postseason
Gateway’s Kefimba Cisse caps high school career at PIAA championship meet
After WPIAL 3-peat, PIAA title, Hampton runners celebrate ‘incredible’ season