Hurdler, distance runner among returning standouts for Gateway track team

Sunday, March 26, 2023 | 11:01 AM

One of the leading returning competitors in the Gateway track and field program this season is junior hurdler Kierra Pitts.

A two-time WPIAL qualifier, Pitts, who is known as Kiki, placed eighth in 17:18 in the girls 100-meter hurdles at last year’s WPIAL Class 3A finals. She also competed in the 300 hurdles and 1,600 relay.

Another junior expected to be a top competitor for the Gateway boys team is junior Kefimba Cisse, a distance runner who was a WPIAL qualifier in the 3,200 last year. He was a top 20 finisher in the event with a 9:59.72 time.

As a member of the boys cross country team, Cisse took first place at the annual Gateway Invitational held Sept. 3 on the Gators’ home course at Boyce Park.

“It will be an interesting year,” said Tom LaBuff, who is in charge of Gateway’s track and field program. “We have high goals for our returning lettermen, high hopes for our younger kids and an expectation of rapid development and eventual success individually and collectively.

“Our numbers are good for both teams, but the majority of the athletes on both teams are young or inexperienced. Consequently, they’ll have to rely on the veterans for leadership and for points until the more talented kids develop the skills necessary for success at the high school level.”

Other athletes to watch this spring at Gateway include seniors Chris Livsey, Daniella Garner and Marina Grado and sophomore Kenny Lewis, all WPIAL qualifiers a year ago.

Livsey placed ninth in the 200 and long jump (20 feet, 5.5 inches) at the 2022 WPIAL finals. He missed being a medalist in the long jump by less than two inches.

Livsey and Lewis, a sprint specialist whose focus is the 100-meter dash, also were runners on the boys 400-meter relay team last season.

“Once again, the boys team has an excellent one-two punch in the short sprints in returnees Chris Livsey and Kenny Lewis,” LaBuff said. “Chris just missed qualifying for states last year and Kenny had a great freshman campaign. Both should challenge for WPIAL medals in the 100 and 200.

“At this point, we don’t know enough about the younger kids to predict who will join them in the sprint relays. I do know that we have a lot of talented young kids and some first-year upperclassmen who have the potential to be very good in the jumps and hurdles. Mikale Connor and Kenny both hit 20 feet in the long jump last year as freshmen.

“The distance team is led by Kefimba Cisse, who qualified for the state championships in cross country this past fall. I expect that he will join the elite runners in the WPIAL this spring. He has a great attitude, great work ethic and a lot of talent. Behind him is a solid group of youngsters who can hold their own against those their own age.”

Garner, a soccer standout, anchored the girls 1,600 relay a year ago while specializing in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles events. She finished in the WPIAL’s top 20 in the 300 hurdles last season.

“The girls team will be led by Daniella Garner, Kiki Pitts and Marina Grado,” LaBuff said. “Daniella and Kiki form perhaps the strongest one-two tandem in the hurdle events in the district. Both qualified for the WPIAL championships last year in the high hurdles and the intermediate hurdles.

“Marina was a stalwart on the 4-by-4 and the 4-by-8. Both relays qualified for WPIALs, but those teams lost key members to graduation. Marina just missed qualifying in the 800 as well. She’ll have to carry the load for the team in the middle distances. We will be looking for a fourth girl to step up to form a (high-level) 4-by-4.”

Grado runs in the middle distance events, the 400, 800 and mile.

“My best event has changed over my course of high school,” she said. “Last year it was the 800 but towards the end of the season, I was showing growth in the 400. This year, I’m looking forward to the 400 because I find it the most competitive.”

Grado was a runner on the girls cross country team for three years and has played basketball at Gateway for four years. She is a 5-foot-5 point guard and will continue her basketball career in college at Washington and Jefferson.

The 17-year-old Grado has a stellar 4.25 GPA and is a National Honor Society member. She also participates in the Interact Volunteer club.

“My personal expectations for this season are to qualify for WPIALs and to PR in my individual events,” Grado said. “A personal goal of mine is to individually qualify for a WPIAL event, which is something I’ve been close to doing these past couple years but have come up short.”

According to the NCSA College Recruiting website, Gardner is the third-fastest female hurdler in school history.

The 5-3 Garner, who is 17, has started at the varsity level for three years in soccer and was an all-section selection in 2020. She served as a team captain as a forward/midfielder last season and was the team’s second-leading goal scorer.

She competed in the 1,600 relay for the Gators at WPIALs last year. Grado and sophomore Grace Byrne also competed in the 3,200 relay.

Both the 1,600 and 3,200 relay team were WPIAL top 20 finishers in 2022.

“Other than the returning WPIAL qualifiers,” LaBuff said, “we are expecting good things from Paige Loughran in the pole vault, Grace Byrne in the 3,200 and 1,600, Nia Brandon and Taylor Bumbaugh in the jumps and Lois Otti-Boateng in the jumps and discus.”

Gateway’s coach said the throwing events were expected to be a strength of the boys team.

“The boys team looks to have more depth than the girls team,” LaBuff said, “but there are some holes left by graduating seniors and unexpected losses in the shot put and discus due to Matt Brooks graduating early to attend Duquesne and Remy Bose having to skip his junior year in the throws due to shoulder surgery. We had expected to be one of the strongest teams in the district in those events.

“Despite those losses, the team will be solid in the throwing events, led by senior Trace Kellman, who has made significant progress since last year and is showing a lot of leadership in the early season. There are some good young athletes who will do more than hold their own in the throwing events under the expert tutelage of coach (Maurice) Washington.”


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