Gateway runner Kefimba Cisse gains confidence ahead of postseason races

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Sunday, October 2, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Kefimba Cisse made his Gateway cross country debut last year after playing soccer as a freshman in the fall of 2020.

He ran middle distance and distance for the Gators track and field team as a freshman and then transitioned from soccer to cross country, making an impact right out of the gate.

“I liked running more than the actual sport side of soccer,” said Cisse, who placed 15th overall in a loaded Class 3A boys field at the Red, White & Blue Invitational Sept. 10 at White Oak Park.

“When I started running for fun, I saw I was better at that, so I decided to devote my time completely to cross country. I did give some thought to doing both cross country and soccer, but the games and meets would cross up too much, and I didn’t think it would work out.”

Now the heart and soul of the Gateway cross country teams, Cisse hopes to continue to build on recent success with opportunities upcoming to add to an already loaded resume.

“It was fun getting into the races last year,” Cisse said. “At first, I didn’t expect to run as fast as I did. I wasn’t used to running that many miles that fast. Coach (Tom LaBuff) believed in me and told me I could do it.

“In the beginning, I used to be very nervous before races. It would interfere with my race mentality. Now, I am more excited than nervous before meets. During races, I am not worried about whether I will burn out or not because I know I have the endurance to finish races strong. Now, it is about getting faster times and actually racing people.”

Cisse said he benefited greatly last season from the guidance of 2022 Gateway graduate Brady Sundin, now a freshman on the men’s cross country team at Saint Vincent College.

“He was a great runner for Gateway and also was, and still is, a great friend to me,” Cisse said.

“He helped me so much. He pulled me up whenever I fell down, and I did the same for him. He helped me a lot with how to approach races. We ran and trained together over the summer, and we still talk about running and how we are doing in our seasons.”

Cisse’s first race last year was at the Gateway Invitational, and he finished 19th in the varsity boys race with a time of 19 minutes, 48.26 seconds.

His improvement in one calendar year was evident with the results of this year’s invitational Sept. 3 on the same Boyce Park course. He won the race this time in 17:52.53, nearly 15 seconds faster than runner-up Rowan Gwin, a junior from Fox Chapel.

“I was glad I took the hills well,” Cisse said. “Last year, hills weren’t my friend at all. This year, I am trying to work on hills more often. The Gateway Invite was a test of that, and I feel I did pretty well with it.”

Cisse said it was good to be in the mix at a prestigious race such as the Red, White & Blue Invitational.

“In ran 16:22 there, and it was fun running with the top dogs as I like to call them,” he said.

Cisse said this cross country season was built, in part, on motivation coming off a successful sophomore track and field spring which saw him cap it off with a 19th-place finish in the Class 3A boys 3,200-meter run at the WPIAL championships at Slippery Rock.

He said he is excited for the chance to run again at WPIALs, set for Oct. 27 on the Roadman Park course at Cal (Pa.). Cisse placed 67th in the Class 3A race last year at Cal in a time of 19:15.8, and he has his sights set on a finish this year that will earn him a trip to states in Hershey.

“After making WPIALs in track, which was one of my goals, I wanted to take it further in cross country,” Cisse said. “In cross country, you don’t make WPIALs, you make states. That is a main goal for me. Also, helping Brady make states last year kind of motivated me, too. I just want to keep it going.”

But before he can test his mettle at WPIALs, he knows there are several important meets to be run.

He was to join his Gateway teammates at Saturday’s Bald Eagle Invitational at White Oak Park and also at Wednesday’s Division I, Section IV championship meet at Northmoreland Park.

Both meets were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

The Mingo Classic at Mingo Creek Park on Oct. 13, and the Tri-State Coaches invitational on Oct. 20 at Cal are expected to be good tests for Cisse in advance of WPIALs.

“(Cal) is one of my least favorite courses with that big hill in the middle,” he said.

“I kind of want to use the other meets to help me improve to get ready for WPIALs. I want to do that hill better this year because last year, it destroyed my pace.”

While Cisse is focused on his individual goals and expectations, he also said he’s excited for how both the youthful boys and girls teams as a whole are progressing. He understands that his guidance is valuable.

“There is a lot of camaraderie on this team, and I like when I have a chance to help and motivate my teammates,” he said.

LaBuff said Cisse is right on track with his training and his performances as the days and weeks become less and less leading up to WPIALs.

“He just has more confidence this year in all areas of his running,” LaBuff said. “He’s been focused from the beginning. He does a great job in practice and does everything I ask of him. Sometimes, I have to hold him back as opposed to the other way around, which is great. The big thing for him is he is really learning to race, not just going out there and running. That will benefit him in these upcoming races up to and including WPIALs.”

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

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