Gateway runners stay dedicated to lowering times throughout season

Sunday, September 20, 2020 | 11:01 AM

While the PIAA and WPIAL wrangled with the decision to maintain the fall sports seasons or postpone them to 2021, the Gateway boys and girls cross country teams kept churning out miles to be ready to go when called upon.

Veteran Gators coach Tom LaBuff said his runners have made progress throughout the past several weeks and months, and he anticipates continued improvement and lowered times as they navigate through a season expected to be like no other.

“The kids have been great,” LaBuff said. “We were able to have our informal preseason workouts following required protocols. There also was some individual responsibility from the kids who got out and put in the miles.”

LaBuff said he and the other coaches, along with the runners, are sounding a cautiously optimistic tone that the rest of the season, through the WPIAL and PIAA championships, will play out without interruption.

LaBuff said he hopes that with protocols in place and the wide open outdoor settings for races, the competitions can proceed with no issue.

“I told the kids that they just need to keep their eyes on their goals and keep training hard,” LaBuff said.

“We can control only what we can control. We’re all thrilled that it looks like there will be a full season, but we’re also holding our breath because all of that could change in a heartbeat.”

The Gators hoped to test their mettle in a big way last Friday and Saturday with back-to-back invitational opportunities.

Gateway was to kick off its season at Friday’s 14-team Kiski Area Invitational at Northmoreland Park.

The fourth annual event was to feature a unique format with team time trials akin to what is done at the annual Tour de France cycling race.

The Gators then were to battle the competition in the Class AAA race at the Red, White & Blue Classic at White Oak Park.

Both races were contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

“We lost a couple of dual meets, but I hopefully have a couple of things in the works,” LaBuff said.

The Gateway boys feature 14 runners, and senior Luke Whisel leads the way after placing 46th (18:02) at last year’s WPIAL Class AAA championships at Cal (Pa.).

“Luke’s training has really gone well,” LaBuff said. “The key will be if his confidence can match his training. He’s capable of running with all but maybe the elite. He certainly is capable of medaling at WPIALs and qualifying for states.”

LaBuff said junior Brady Sundin and senior Joseph Storey also return after running at WPIALs last year.

“Both Brady and Joey are not too far behind Luke,” LaBuff said. “There is a solid top three, and there is a nice contingent of some upperclassmen and younger runners. How good they can be depends, to some extent, on their growth and confidence levels as they start to compete.”

Numbers are not as strong on the girls side. Five runners are on the roster. LaBuff said staying healthy will be a big key to the team’s success.

Junior Kiyara Sawyers led Gateway with a 64th-place finish in the Class AAA girls race at WPIALs last year. She will form the core of the 2020 group with fellow returning WPIAL runners Marina Grado, a sophomore, and Emma Sandor, a junior.

Grado and Sandor placed 74th and 78th, respectively, at WPIALs last year.

“We have, potentially, a really good top three,” LaBuff said. “The No. 4 and No. 5 girls are inexperienced, but they are steady and are training hard.”

Gateway opens October with the Bald Eagle Invitational (Oct. 3) at White Oak Park and the Section 4-AAA championship meet at Northmoreland Park (Oct. 7).

From there, LaBuff said, it will be a mad dash to the WPIAL championship meet, tentatively set for Oct. 29.

“Both teams will be more than representative throughout the season if they can stay healthy,” LaBuff said.

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


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