Kiski Area’s Miller, A-K Valley’s top runners ready for WPIAL cross country meet

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 | 9:32 PM

Kiski Area senior Eliza Miller sounded an optimistic tone on the eve of her final WPIAL Class 3A cross country championship race.

After taking 10th last year at Cal (Pa.) and making a return trip to the PIAA championships in Hershey, Miller is one of eight top-10 finishers back among a deep field, led by defending champion Logan St. John Kletter from Mt. Lebanon, who will be shooting for WPIAL gold.

The Class 3A girls, at 11 a.m., will kick off a full day of six races at the WPIAL championships Thursday at White Oak Park.

“I would say I am pretty well prepared,” Miller said. “I’ve been trying to take it a little easier this past week while trying to get in the right mindset. It is very back and forth between the top group of girls, and it’s been fun to see how each one has done at the top meets.”

While many of Thursday’s top runners tested themselves in a preview of WPIALs at the Tri-State Coaches Association meet last week at White Oak Park, Miller was among the few who didn’t run there.

“I had run it multiple times before, so I didn’t think there was a need for a preview,” Miller said. “I already knew what to expect from the course.”

The Class 3A boys are next in line at 11:45 a.m., followed by the Class A girls at 1 p.m., the Class A boys at 1:45, the Class 2A girls at 3 and the Class 2A boys at 3:45.

The Class 3A boys again will feel the pinch as only two teams and 10 individual finishers will move onto states. The Class 3A and Class 2A girls qualify three teams and 15 individuals to states.

The Class 2A boys and Class A boys and girls will have the top four teams and top 20 individuals secure PIAA berths.

Fox Chapel senior Rowan Gwin, the Division I, Section 4 champion, hopes to build on his seventh-place finish in the Class 3A boys race last year.

But teammate Ethan Vaughan, a junior who took 14th last year and earned an individual berth to states, will not run Thursday while he works on healing a stress fracture.

Plum senior Gabriel Powell also is one to look out for in the race for a state qualifying spot in boys Class 3A. He was 32nd last year.

Freeport junior Michael Braun finished two seconds away from a top 10 spot in last year’s WPIAL Class 2A boys race. His 11th (17:02) earned him a trip to states. He’s itching for a return to Hershey.

Like Miller, Braun didn’t run at the Tri-State meet, opting for a practice session and trusting his knowledge of and confidence in the White Oak course from a strong run at the Red, White & Blue Invitational in September.

Everyone in boys Class 2A is chasing two-time defending champion Ryan Pajak, a senior from Ringgold who also placed second as a freshman.

“I am feeling good about my race. I’ve been prepping for it all season,” Braun said. “Considering it is at White Oak, I definitely feel I will be faster than what I ran at Red, White & Blue. That has been my best and favorite course since freshman year, so I feel pretty good going into it.”

Also hoping to make waves and get back to states are Kiski Area sophomore Sam Plazio and Cavaliers senior Paul Roberts. Plazio finished 17th in Class 2A last year, while Roberts was 24th.

“We’re really prepared, and having already been there for Red, White & Blue and Tri-States, the kids are familiar with the course. We have our race plans set,” Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky said. “It’s just a matter of us being able to repeat what we did before.”

There will be a new WPIAL champion in Class A boys as Eden Christian’s Sean Aiken, a multi-time winner, graduated and is running this fall at Liberty University in Virginia.

Riverview junior Christopher Barnes, ninth last year, hopes he is able to contend for WPIAL gold and also help the Raiders boys make another trip to states. Riverview has had a top-five Class A individual boys finisher each of the past six seasons.

The Riverview girls joined their Raiders counterparts at states last year after a WPIAL third place fueled by top 25 individual finishes from junior Lily Bauer and senior Gwyn Fichte.

The Riverview boys have qualified for the PIAA championships seven times since 2015, and the Raiders girls have gone to states three times. Only one other school – North Allegheny – has gone more combined times with 16 (eight boys, eight girls).

Burrell senior Grace Nesko is back at WPIALs after not running there last year because of injury. She qualified for states as a sophomore, placing 19th in the Class 2A girls race at Cal.

Apollo-Ridge doesn’t field full WPIAL teams, so the Vikings are able to enter just one boy and one girl for the Class A races at White Oak. Sophomore Breydon Orvosh and senior Sienna Jackson will compete at WPIALs after gaining a measure of momentum from strong runs at the Indiana County Championships at IUP on Oct. 12.

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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