Gateway’s Kefimba Cisse caps high school career at PIAA championship meet

Sunday, November 12, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Two years ago as a sophomore, Gateway’s Kefimba Cisse placed 67th in the Class 3A boys race at the WPIAL cross country championships at Cal (Pa.).

He wasn’t able to reach the state meet in Hershey, but Gators coach Tom LaBuff said the then first-year high school runner was making progress, and the future was bright.

Last year, Cisse made his move up the ladder, landed among the WPIAL leaders, and punched his ticket to the PIAA championships.

He placed 97th in his first state meet run on Hershey’s Parkview Course, and it set the stage for what was to come this year as his mission to get back to states fueled his training and his fire to compete.

With a better knowledge of the twists and turns and the elevation changes, along with the strategy needed to cover the 3.1 miles, Cisse did his best to attack the course Nov. 4 in the final race of his high school career.

Maneuvering his way amongst the states best, Cisse made improvements, both in time and in place finish.

He finished 73rd overall in a deep and competitive field that totaled 240 runners, checking in with a final time of 17 minutes, 7 seconds.

“Kefimba ran well,” LaBuff said. “I think he was about 45 seconds better than last year. But he did make the same mistake as last year. He didn’t get out in the first 300 and got boxed in when it funneled down to the narrow trail. He then endured a lot of being jostled about for most of the rest of mile one.”

The lone Gateway representative at states, Cisse was 66th after the first mile, but dipped back to 79th at the 2.5-kilometer mark.

He then made up a few places to the finish as he was 75th at the two-mile mark, and 74th at the four-kilometer point before moving up one more spot before the end line.

“He just could never recover well enough after expending all of that extra energy to get ahead of middle pack,” LaBuff said.

“He was never able to catch up with the top 25. He was certainly capable. Several WPIAL runners he’s beaten this year did medal. He did have a strong finish, passing several runners in the last 400.”

Cisse also was 10th among all of the WPIAL runners, the same spot in which he finished at the WPIAL championships at White Oak a little over a week earlier.

Butler senior Drew Griffith capped a standout career with his first state championship. Second at Hershey in 2022, Griffith came back and ran the Hershey course in a time of 15:23, nearly 21 seconds ahead of the field including runner-up Nicholas Mazzeo, a sophomore from Lower Merion in District 1 near Philadelphia.

Griffith led or was second at every distance checkpoint.

North Allegheny junior Jack Bertram placed third (15:50) as four WPIAL runners scored in the top 25 to earn state medals.

The 25th finisher recorded a time of 16:33.

“I’m disappointed for him,” LaBuff said. “But I told him to focus on all of the positives from a great year.”

Cisse ran to individual accomplishments throughout the season, but LaBuff said he was a strong leader for a Gateway boys team coming along through each practice and competition.

At WPIALs at White Oak on Oct. 26, Cisse ran to a time of 16:24.4 as the Gators as a whole finished 19th. Junior Nathan Eichenmiller was the second Gators boys finisher at WPIALs as he placed 86th in a time of 18:09, slightly elevated from his run (17:59.75) at the Tri-State meet on the same White Oak course a week earlier.

Cisse started out the season on his home course at Boyce Park. He was third at the Gateway Invitational in a loaded field which included winner Ethan Vaughan, a junior from Fox Chapel; runner-up Gabriel Powell, a senior from Plum; and Franklin Regional senior Nathan Kociela.

Cisse tested himself for the first time on the White Oak course one week later. He recorded a 16:37 and placed 17th in the Class 3A race at the Red, White & Blue Invitational.

Seven of the 16 who finished ahead of Cisse were elite runners from outside the WPIALs.

Cisse returned to White Oak on Oct. 7 and had a big day in winning the Class 3A boys division of the 45-team Bald Eagle Invitational. That day, he ran to a time of 16:14.11.

He was fourth overall with three boys from Class 2A and Class A schools as the only ones ahead of him.

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


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