Gateway track and field athletes gear up for competition

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Sunday, April 7, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The first couple of weeks of preseason practices for WPIAL sports teams contained several sunny days with temperatures reaching into the 60s with a couple getting near 70.

But over the past week or so, Mother Nature hasn’t been kind, with temperatures dropping into the 40s for highs with rain and wind.

The weather messed up the early competition schedule for the Gateway track and field teams as a home meet March 26 with McKeesport was postponed while weather and a holiday break for Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic students postponed Gateway’s home meet with them from April 3.

“It has been hard for the kids,” said Gators coach Tom LaBuff concerning the competition changes. “Track is not like sports with a ball. When you have a ball, you can play a game or scrimmage for practice and still improve. In track, it’s just work. You work at the technique. They are good most of the time with that, but it gets old. But everyone is in the same boat.

“With the (spring) break, attendance was spotty at times. A lot of things have made it not ideal in terms of practice, but when the kids have been here, they’ve worked hard. We have a lot of nice underclassmen, and like I said, the work ethic has been great on both sides, no matter the talent level. I am happy with that.”

Gateway was slated to be in competition at home Tuesday with Plum and Penn Hills.

The Gators also will take on competition Saturday at the annual Tri-State Track Coaches Association outdoor invitational at West Mifflin.

“It’s always a good test,” LaBuff said. “It just depends on what the weather is going to be like. We hope for the best there. The kids will no doubt face some good competition.”

LaBuff and his assistant coaches were able to get a look at athletes of all grades and experience levels at a scrimmage with Hempfield and Connellsville on March 22 at Antimarino Stadium.

“We got some good feedback from that scrimmage in a number of areas,” he said.

Two seniors, Kiki Pitts (100 and 300 hurdles) and Caleb Bell (400 dash), return after competing at last year’s WPIAL Class 3A championships at Slippery Rock.

Pitts, who is committed to the women’s track and field program at Division II Albany State in Georgia, is hoping for podium finishes at WPIALs and a shot at states.

“With how I ran last year, I didn’t think I was going to get an opportunity to run in college,” Pitts said. “I didn’t do that well last year. So, this year, I am taking everything more seriously. My (Albany State) coaches are watching me. They want to see me drop time so they know that when I get down there, I will be helping the team.”

LaBuff said there is pretty good depth in the boys sprints, and Bell hopes for big things.

“We have a lot of kids who are fast, and they are taking it seriously this year,” said Bell, who also will run the 400 and 1,600 relays. “We had some injuries last year, too. We should be solid this year. We have a lot of potential.”

LaBuff said Bell has developed into a strong leader.

“He is motivated by the fact that some younger kids are pushing him,” he said.

LaBuff said two freshmen girls — Kalee Kellman and Jace Smith — who are hurdling and also sprinting the 100 are progressing well in both.

“It’s hard going back-to-back in the duals, but so far, they’ve been able to handle that,” he said.

LaBuff said the winter was a good mix of training sessions for several athletes while also an opportunity for others to compete.

Junior Dino Nadarevic threw 50 feet, 101/4 inches in the shot put at a Tri-State Coaches indoor meet in February.

“In the scrimmage, he threw 51 or 52 in the shot and 150 something in the discus,” LaBuff said. “He’s going to be special. He works his tail off and is totally dedicated to track. He’s a really good leader.

“We’re very solid in the throws with the boys. If we had more depth in the middle distance and hurdles, we could be dangerous. We have good jumpers and a lot of things, but again, we’re still finding out where some things stand from a competitive standpoint.”

LaBuff said depth is a concern in the distance for both teams.

Senior Kefimba Cisse, who is coming off a cross country season in which he returned to the PIAA championships in Hershey, hopes to get back to the WPIAL championships in May after missing out last year.

Cisse will attend Southern California University and major in biopharmecutical sciences. Running track or cross country there in some form or fashion, he said, is to be determined.

“I am feeling pretty excited for the season and what I can do because last year, I don’t think I did too well,” said Cisse, who, as a practicing Muslim, has, since March 10, been observing the obligations of Ramadan, which involve fasting from dawn to sunset as well as prayer and reflection.

“Ramadan is actually ending early (April 9), and I will be able to return to a regular (diet) schedule of food and drink and be good for meets. I am looking forward to competing at Tri-States and measuring myself.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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