Kiski Area’s Miller, Plazio win WCCA titles; Norwin boys, girls sweep 3A team trophies

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Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | 9:04 PM


As Eliza Miller headed toward the finish line during the annual Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association Cross Country Championship on Wednesday, she turned it on.

With the timing clock in site, the Kiski Area senior poured it on, determined to break the 18-minute mark.

As she crossed the finish line, Miller celebrated her accomplishment before falling to the ground.

Someone mentioned she was around 18 minutes, and Miller said, “No, 17:59.”

Her actual time was a personal-best 17:59.6, and it was the third consecutive year she won the title.

“It’s amazing to win this race for a third time,” Miller said. “I definitely was trying to get under 18 minutes. That was my goal. I wanted to get out really fast and break away early and then hold on.”

But she didn’t have to worry about holding on. She took the lead from the start and steadily pulled away.

“I was trying to hold onto that pace,” Miller said. “I tried to stay with the guy in the Gator leading the pack. He was trying to help me. He knew what I was trying to do and kept up the pace.”

And running by herself didn’t seem to bother Miller in her quest. She is used to running alone.

“It’s hard to keep yourself in it during the last mile when you’re not getting pushed,” Miller said. “It’s a learning lesson to practice by yourself.”

Penn-Trafford’s Amelia Barilla finished second (18:28.3), Norwin’s Annie Czajkowski was third (18:49.4), Latrobe’s Emerson Skatell was fourth (18:59.0) and Franklin Regional’s Caroline Shirley was fifth (19:19.2).

Miller wasn’t the only Kiski Area runner to win. Sophomore Sam Plazio won the boys title for the second consecutive season. His time was a personal-record 16:20.4.

He helped the Kiski Area boys win in the Class 2A title.

“I knew there would be guys shooting for me since I won last year,” Plazio said. “I had to work for it. The kid from Franklin Regional pushed me. We were trading it off a couple times. My mindset was that I had to compete for the title.”

Plazio said the season has gone well. He said his times must continue to get better.

“It’s exciting to win two times, but my ultimate goal is to do it four times,” Plazio said. “Last year at states, I got trapped at the beginning. I need to get out faster. I was hoping for the first mile to break five minutes, and I did.”

Franklin Regional’s Nathan Kociela finished second with a 16:32.1, Greensburg Central Catholic’s Nick Szekely was third (16:39.4), Norwin’s Luke Simpson was fourth (16:42.4) and Norwin’s Enzo Jiancristoforo was fifth (16:45.7).

The Norwin girls and boys turned in a dominating team performance.

The girls had seven runners finish in the top 14 and finished with 37 points. Latrobe was second with 67 points, and Kiski Area finished third with 86.

Joining Czajkowski were Julia Walko (seventh, 19:50.2), Addison Farrah (eighth, 19:51.5), Jillian Ryba (ninth, 19:52.5), Audra Fedor (11th, 19:58.6), Anna Dansak (13th, 20:07.8) and Rosemary Gaydos (14th, 20:11.4).

The Norwin boys had four runners finish in the top 15. Joining Simpson and Jiancristoforo were Thomas Gaydos (seventh, 17:03.2) and Mario Breauchy (eighth, 17:04.6). The Knights finished with 27 points and were followed by Hempfield 42 and Franklin Regional with 65.

“We’ve been relying on a pack all year,” Norwin coach Brian Fleckenstein said, “so it’s nice to see all the girls walk away with a medal and the boys, too. It was nice to get the county title back. We always circle this event on the calendar to kick off our championship October.”

Fleckenstein said that has been the key to the teams’ success. The girls are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL behind North Allegheny and fourth in the state.

“Running in a pack is really key in cross country, especially in big meets,” Fleckenstein said. “That’s what we pride ourselves a lot. We have seven to 10 runners competing on the varsity, and that makes everyone better and improved.”

Kiski Area boys finished with 27 points to win the 2A title. Greensburg Central Catholic edged Greensburg Salem for second place 63-64.

“It was a team effort,” Kiski Area senior Paul Roberts said. “It’s something we’ve been working towards all season.”

Junior Justin Gross added: “This win will help us moving forward. We had a lot of guys contribute to the effort.”

The Derry girls won the 2A title for the second consecutive season with 37 points. Greensburg Salem was second with 43 points.

Jane Huss was the Trojans’ top finisher, placing 16th.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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