Gateway runners turn focus to postseason invitational success

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Sunday, October 11, 2020 | 11:01 AM


The Gateway boys and girls cross country teams are in the stretch run to the WPIAL championships in two weeks, and the Gators hope to take advantage of both practices and competition to sharpen their focus.

“The kids have the potential to do well,” an optimistic Gateway coach Tom LaBuff said at last week’s Division I, Section 4 championship meet at Northmoreland Park.

“There are a lot of good opportunities to compete.”

Gateway’s remaining schedule begins with the annual Mingo Classic on Thursday at Mingo Creek Park in Finleyville and continues with the Tri-State meet Oct. 22 and WPIALs a week later.

Both the Tri-State meet and WPIALs will be at White Oak Park in White Oak, a move from Roadman Park at Cal (Pa.), the location for both events the past two years.

WPIAL cross country overall saw a slight change Wednesday to the state-qualifying formula.

The board previously approved a format that let every district send one team and five individuals to the state meet in each classification, boys and girls. The board amended that plan Wednesday that’s more proportionate to the number of cross country teams in each district.

Now, along with one team, 10 WPIAL runners instead of five will qualify for the state meet in both Class AAA boys and girls. The WPIAL will send seven boys and seven girls runners in both Class AA and Class A.

The state cross country championships are Nov. 7 in Hershey.

LaBuff said both teams didn’t perform as well as he expected at the section meet, but he hopes they can put it behind them and also learn from it and grow.

Junior Kiyara Sawyers paced the Gateway girls team at the section meet with a 13th-place finish (22 minutes, 29.3 seconds) in the varsity girls race. The Gators finished with a 2-7 record.

“My knee was hurting a little bit,” Sawyers said shortly after getting her left knee wrapped in ice.

“But I was able to push through it.”

On the boys side at sections, senior Luke Whisel led the way with a fifth-place overall finish. His time of 18:04.6 was nearly identical to what he ran on the same course at the Kiski Cavalier Invitational on Sept. 18.

Junior Brady Sundin finished 25th (19:17.7) as the Gateway boys went 4-4 against the other eight teams.

“Luke hopes to be in top 15 (at WPIALs),” LaBuff said. “That’s a decent goal for him. The top three girls, if we can put them in the top 40 at WPIALs, we’ll be happy with that. There are a couple there who are capable of making a jump, especially Kiyara.”

LaBuff said the teams have appreciated the opportunities to compete during a season like no other and have weathered some speed bumps along the way.

The Gateway teams competed in an exhibition dual meet at White Oak Park on Sept. 23 but had to cancel four practices and their participation in the Races at Youthtowne meet on Sept. 26 in the wake of covid issues within the Gateway School District.

The Gators were permitted to return to competition with a dual meet at White Oak Park on Sept. 30. They resumed practices in full the next day and also ran at the Bald Eagle Invitational at White Oak on Oct. 3.

“The kids trained on their own and asked the coaches what they should do,” LaBuff said.

“I told them I couldn’t be there with them, but they could still train. I offered them some instructions, and they were great about doing that. They were disappointed about missing a chance to compete (Sept. 26). We had already missed what we normally have with the first two weeks of the season with our invitational and scrimmages coming in. There have been some disruption to the season, but the kids are just glad to have the chance to compete.”

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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