Gateway cross country on comeback trail after midseason car crash

Friday, October 18, 2019 | 5:33 PM

Gateway’s cross country team was picking up steam at the midpoint of the season until a car crash injured three runners.

Sophomore Emma Sandor and junior Joseph Storey returned in time for the Division I, Section 4 championship meet, and sophomore Ryleigh Geraci was ruled out for the season. The boys finished fifth and the girls fourth in sections, which met coach Tom LaBuff’s expectations.

“Everyone was together for a team thing to go out and eat, and somebody hit our kids from behind,” LaBuff said. “It shook them up, and for the runners that came back, it was tough to miss about 15 days then run a 5K (for the section).”

The Gators hope they can overcome the crash and a “poor” race at Thursday’s Tri State Track Coaches Association meet for a strong finish at WPIALs.

Sophomore Kiyara Sawyers and freshman Marina Grado placed in the top 10 at the section championship then placed 44th and 56th at TSTCA. Sandor usually runs with them, but dropped to 23rd in sections and finished Thursday one minute behind Grado.

Senior Maddie Smith believes Sawyers and Grado could each qualify for states.

“It would great, honestly, because everyone thinks there’s an outside chance,” Smith said. “I’d love to see the joy and celebration they would get after all of our hard work.”

The boys’ top runner, Luke Whisel, finished seventh at the section championship and eighth at the Mingo Classic in early October, but fell to 44th at TSTCA in 17 minutes, 58 seconds.

The key for Whisel at WPIALs, according to LaBuff, is getting out quick.

“I’d be really happy for him (if he qualifies for states),” LaBuff said. “He’s just a kid who has put a full effort in all season. I coach because I like to see the kids develop and reach milestones and goals. If he can get out, he has a really good chance of going to states.”

Sophomore Brady Sundin finished 81st at TSTCA and is expected to have a strong finish to the season.

“He has made really great progress, and he can get down to about 17 minutes, 30 seconds now,” LaBuff said. “What he has to overcame is the fact that he’s not physically mature yet. He’s small, and as he grows, hopefully the weight and strength will come.”

Senior Riley Pritchard hopes the team, which is down to four girls and five boys, can have its best meet at WPIALs.

“It definitely hurt physically and mentally to have people out for a while, and it would just be awesome if everyone could run together and have a great race at WPIALs,” Pritchard said. “We want to show everyone what we’ve been training for and working so hard for every day for the last few months.”


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