Gateway’s Kefimba Cisse sets sights on returning to PIAA championships

Sunday, October 15, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Kefimba Cisse likes to run at White Oak Park.

The Gateway senior won the Class 3A boys division at the 45-team Bald Eagle Invitational there Oct. 7 with a time of 16 minutes, 14.11 seconds.

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

It was a promising and positive precursor to what could develop Oct. 26 when Cisse returns to White Oak for the WPIAL Class 3A championships.

“I was happy with my race at White Oak,” Cisse said. “The conditions were great. I actually prefer when it is a little colder. I had an 11-second (personal record). It was a big boost for me to run well there. I am still trying to flesh out where I could finish at WPIALs. I don’t have many races left, so I want to take advantage of the races I do have and prepare the best I can.”

Cisse said a main goal is to break 16 minutes, something, he said, he can accomplish with the right training and the execution of his best race.

He will have a strong sense of course strategy at WPIALs as he again will experience the White Oak course as the Tri-State Invitational on Thursday.

He placed 16th in the WPIAL Class 3A boys race last year at Cal (Pa.) with a time of 17:06.6. He was the eighth individual finisher out of 10 to earn a PIAA berth after the top two automatic-qualifying teams were determined.

The PIAA again will take from WPIALs just the top two teams and top 10 individuals not on one of those teams from WPIALs for the Class 3A boys race Nov. 4 in Hershey.

It is the least amount of qualifiers among the three boys and three girls divisions.

“It now is a lot harder because before it was top 20,” Cisse said.

“Triple-A is a big division, yet all other divisions get more people to go to states. It doesn’t make sense, but you have to do what you have to do to qualify. I feel confident I will get there again.”

Cisse hopes to add a state medal to his list of accomplishments.

The top 25 individuals in each race at the PIAA meet will take home a medal. Cisse was 97th at states last year.

“Nothing is guaranteed, but if I do get back to states, I really want that state medal,” Cisse said.

“Coach (Tom LaBuff) said I can do it, and I believe I can do it. I just have to put in the work. States is a hard course, and you really have to go out there and earn it.”

WPIALs on Oct. 26 begins with the Class 3A girls at 11 a.m. and the Class 3A boys at 11:30.

Senior Caleb Bell, and juniors Kairell McCoy, Darren Johnson and Nathan Eichenmiller return with WPIAL experience and will join Cisse in attempting to improve on last year’s 23rd place in the boys team standings.

On the girls side, sophomore Gianna Laurenti made her WPIAL debut last year and recorded a team-best 58th place.

“The section championship meet (Oct. 4 at Northmoreland Park) was the first time she had run in two weeks because of an injury,” LaBuff said.

“She struggled there, but she ran a lot better (at the Bald Eagle Invite). She’s still trying to get her feet back under her, so to speak.”

Junior Madison Lu also will run at WPIALs for the second time.

Freshman Kailee Allen fronted Gateway in 12th (22:49.6) at the section meet.

Fellow freshman Maleah McKnight will make her WPIAL meet debut.

Another freshman, Kalee Kellman, also a right side hitter on the Gators girls volleyball team, added cross country after the start of the season.

She ran for Gateway at the section championship and placed 46th.

Her presence and participation gave the Gateway girls five runners, the minimum number needed to achieve a team score. That also will be the case at WPIALs where at least five are needed for a team to appear in the team standings.

“Kalee did a really nice job at the section meet,” LaBuff said. “All I asked her to do was come in and jog. She did a lot more than jog. She ran and ran well.”

LaBuff said freshman Savannah Boden and junior Gracyn Fry, both Gators soccer players, were hoping to also join the team and add depth moving forward.

“We had been talking to those girls for a couple of weeks about helping us out, and they are willing to help us out,” LaBuff said.

“We discussed it with (the volleyball and soccer) coaches first before we talked to the kids. The coaches were on board with it. It is just a matter of making it work. It’s always nice to see cooperation between the athletes and coaches.”

LaBuff said the runners for both the boys and girls teams have been working hard and the results bear that out.

“We’ve done a few things differently with their training this year, and as a consequence, we told them they would see some big time drops at the end as opposed to gradual improvement.”

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


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