Kiski Area cross country teams set goal of improving as season progresses

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021 | 10:36 AM


Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky advocates a fundamental approach to the 2021 cross country season for his runners.

Improvement is the key word.

“Our top goal is to consistently improve throughout the season,” said Berzonsky, now in his third decade as the Cavaliers’ coach. “Our girls team returns six of our top seven, so we feel we are competitive. The boys are young but have done very well in the first two meets (a scrimmage against Freeport and at the Gateway Invitational).”

Kiski Area’s girls squad placed third with 86 points at the season-opening Gateway Invitational on Sept. 4 at Boyce Park, trailing Fox Chapel (33) and Baldwin (67).

KA senior Lizeth Sesmas logged a 23 minutes, 32.42 seconds to take fourth place in the girls race. Josette Plazio, also a senior, was 12th (24:49.44).

Sesmas and Plazio, along with sophomore Tatiana Holt, were cited as Alle-Kiski cross country all-stars last season.

KA’s Eliza Miller was named the Alle-Kiski girls runner of the year as a freshman a year ago. She placed fifth at the WPIAL Class AAA championship meet.

“Eliza Miller is a great competitor and a great teammate,” Berzonsky said. “She trains very hard in practice and also pushes her teammates. She is a competitive swimmer and swims year round. This helps her as a runner. She is very strong.

“Eliza hopes to challenge for a high finish at WPIALs and states. Josie Plazio and Lizeth Sesmas should also challenge for a high WPIAL finish.”

Other competitors for the Kiski Area girls team at the Gateway invite included freshmen Taylor Roland (26:10.22), Gianna Wray (26:41.98) and Amara Sterlitz (26:58.47), sophomore Ellie Hecker (26:23.55) and junior Olivia Schrag (26:54.81). All were top-30 finishers.

In the boys division, the Cavaliers reeled in fourth place with a 120-point total, as Fox Chapel (45), Riverview (64) and Baldwin (116) secured the top three spots.

Sophomore Paul Roberts paced the Kiski Area boys with a 19:36.97 effort, good for 12th place in the individual results.

“Paul Roberts has worked really hard this summer and is a great team leader,” Berzonsky said.

Other leading runners for KA included a freshman, Justin Tucker, and two seniors, Antonio Giordano and Phil Miller, who locked up 22nd, 28th and 29th with times of 20:10.38, 20:35.31 and 20:26.

Miller received honorable mention recognition on the Alle-Kiski cross country all-star team last year.

Sophomores Hunter Heinack (20:32.6) and Wyatt Krough (21:14.3) and junior Zachary George (20:32.67) also were KA participants at the Gateway event.

“Justin Tucker, our No. 2 runner at Gateway, has been a pleasant surprise as a freshman,” Berzonsky said.

Berzonsky has been teaching and coaching at Kiski Area since 1999. He ran for IUP in both the men’s cross country and track programs.

“We did hold a few kids out of Gateway for various reasons,” Berzonsky said. “We anticipate(d) everyone running at the Red, White and Blue Invitational.”

The Cavaliers’ second big meet of the season was the Red, White and Blue event Sept. 11 at White Oak Park.

The Kiski Area girls competed in the Class AAA varsity race and ended up 18th overall.

Miller led the Cavaliers with a time of 18:33 to finish ninth in the individual results, leading the way for Sesmas (20:46), senior Payton Sullivan (22:16), Roland (22:40), Holt (22:44), Hecker (22:52) and Schrag (23:30).

The Kiski Area boys, also competing at the AAA varsity level, corralled 15th place.

They were led by Roberts (17:37), Giordano (18:07), Heinack (18:39), George (18:56), Miller (19:10), Tucker (19:11) and Krogh (19:14).

In the early stages of this season, the KA girls’ top runners consisted of a trio of seniors, juniors and sophomores and one junior. The KA boys’ top competitors consisted of three sophomores, two seniors, one junior and one freshman.

“I’m very happy with where we are,” Berzonsky said. “It’s early in the season, and we’ve had some excellent performances. Eliza had a big PR and set a new school record. But I really liked how aggressive she was at the start.

“For the boys, Paul Roberts dropped 1 minute and 13 seconds from his time last year on the same course. He has worked really hard and it’s great to see him rewarded for those efforts.”

The Cavaliers will host the fifth annual Kiski Cavalier/Saucony and Gingerbread Man Running Company XC Invitational, featuring more than 20 teams, on Sept. 17 at Northmoreland Park in Westmoreland County.

Miller made her varsity debut by winning the girls race at last year’s Gingerbread Man invitational. Sesmas also placed in the top 10.

In the pool, Miller was an eighth-place medalist in the 100-yard breaststroke last March at the WPIAL Class AAA finals.

Miller also earned top-five finishes in three events while representing Pittsburgh Elite Aquatic Club last March at the Allegheny Mountain Junior Olympic championships.

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