Knoch girls cross country team makes leap forward at WPIAL meet

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Thursday, October 24, 2019 | 7:37 PM


Sammy Jo Barnes qualified for the PIAA cross country championships individually the past two seasons.

The Knoch senior made it three in a row Thursday at Cal (Pa.) with a fifth-place finish (20 minutes, 27 seconds) in the Class AA girls race.

Barnes was hoping for a little bit more, and her teammates delivered.

The Knoch girls, 10th at WPIALs last year, roared up the standings and finished third overall, clinching the program’s first PIAA berth since 2014 and fourth overall in program history.

“We made a really big jump from last year to this year, and I am just so proud of the way everyone came together and worked hard from the summer through the season,” Barnes said. “The dedication from everyone has been amazing. We deserve to be at Hershey.”

Sophomores Elyse Chess and Yumiko Kuo finished 23rd (21:51) and 25th (22:06), respectively, for Knoch. Chess was 155th last year, and Kuo didn’t run at WPIALs as a freshman.

Senior Amelia Walls (44th) and freshman Grace Bogacz (48th) rounded out the scoring top five for Knoch.

The top four teams the boys and girls Class A races and the top three in Class AAA and AA earn automatic trips to states, set for Nov. 2 in Hershey.

The top 20 individuals in Class A and top 15 in Class AAA and AA not on one of the qualifying teams also earn berths to the PIAA meet.

Winchester Thurston and Riverview were the top two teams in boys Class A for the fourth year in a row. The Raiders hoped to unseat the Bears, who beat them each of the past three seasons.

But the three-time defending champions didn’t give up their crown. Winchester Thurston placed all five of its scoring runners within the top 15 and topped Riverview for the title by 38 points.

“I felt like we all ran really well,” said junior Mason Ochs, who finished second individually with a time of 17:10. “Gid (Deasy) said he felt great. It is so competitive between the two teams. It goes back a couple years to some runners who have graduated. It’s a great rivalry. I’m sure we will have another great race next week.”

Deasy took fifth individually (17:27), while sophomore Lucas Wilson was 22nd (18:22), sophomore Parker Steele was 25th (18:31), and sophomore Ty Loughlin rounded out the scoring top five in 29th (18:38).

The Riverview boys will run at states for the fifth year in a row and hope to improve on their all-time best finish of eighth set last year and in 2017.

Fox Chapel senior Christian Fitch placed fourth (16:16) in the Class AAA boys race and punched his ticket to states for the fourth year in a row. The field of runners all were chasing Mt. Lebanon senior Patrick Anderson, who won with a course-record time of 15:41.

Anderson is the defending PIAA champion.

“It’s a lot of fun when you come out here and get to run with some of the top guys in the state,” Fitch said. “It really sharpens each of us. The WPIAL is so deep right now.”

The Knoch boys produced a pair of state-qualifying runners in seniors Aaron Plyler and Braden Zukowski.

Plyler finished 22nd in a time of 17:53, one second and one place ahead of Zukowski.

Zukowski will run at states for the second year in a row.

“It was really hot out, and that’s not my strong suit,” Zukowski said. “I am just happy I finished where I did. Aaron passed me right at the end. I am really happy for the way he ran. We’re both going to states, and I’m sure it will be a great time.”

The Fox Chapel girls saw their string of PIAA trips end at three, but senior Grace Sisson placed fifth in the Class AAA girls race and will be heading back to Hershey (19:53).

Teammate and fellow senior Brooke Krally (15th, 20:28) will join Sisson at states.

Plum senior Justin Mascilli placed 27th (17:30) in the boys Class AAA race, one second away from an individual qualifying spot to states.

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

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