Knoch’s Formica wins WPIAL Class AA cross country title; GS boys victorious

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 | 5:08 PM

Mike Formica celebrated his 18th birthday in style.

The Knoch senior bested the field in the boys race at Wednesday’s WPIAL Class AA cross country championships at White Oak Park. He posted a winning time of 16 minutes, 15 seconds.

“It was pretty amazing to come out here and win,” said Formica, who finished third at last week’s Tri-State championships at White Oak. “It was something I thought about doing the entire year. I had a really good feeling about today. It just feels great to have all that work pay off.”

Formica broke through after placing 69th at last year’s WPIAL meet at Cal (Pa.). On Wednesday, he was 2 seconds faster than the runner-up, Ringgold freshman Ryan Pajak, and 5 seconds ahead of third-place finisher, Greensburg Salem senior Quintin Gatons.

Defending Class AA boys champion Will Lamb of Beaver finished sixth overall, but the senior earned one of the at-large state-qualifying spots and will return to states Nov. 7 in Hershey.

With the PIAA making changes to the qualifying numbers for the state meet in Hershey — only the team champions and the top seven individual finishers in each race not on the winning team move on — there was a heightened sense of determination among the runners to be at their best on a course dampened by a steady light drizzle.

Gatons helped the Greensburg Salem boys capture their second WPIAL Class AA title in three years. The Golden Lions placed three in the top 10 — senior Ethan Kelley was eighth and junior Charles Johnson ninth — and a fourth, junior Jacob Smith, at No. 19 and edged Ringgold for the title by six team points. Ringgold beat Greensburg Salem by five points for the Tri-States team title.

“Last week at Tri-States, we were pretty close, and I thought we might have a shot at this,” Greensburg Salem coach Nathan Snider said. “Jake Smith, our fourth guy, has really come on for us. That was the really big key for us today. We knew it was going to be within five or 10 points.”

Greensburg Salem junior Natalie DiCriscio placed eighth in the girls Class AA race with a time of 16:16. She nabbed the seventh and final at-large bid to states by a second over a pair of Knoch runners: junior Elyse Chess and freshman Emma Haugh.

“They ran their hearts out,” Knoch coach Wess Brahler said. “They both ran their best times of the year and broke 20 minutes for the first time in their careers. They left it all out there. That’s all you can do.”

Deer Lakes senior Carson McCoy came close to nabbing one of the seven boys at-large bids. He placed 12th in a time of 16:51, two spots 7 seconds behind the final qualifier, 10th-place finisher Kirk Stewart, a senior from South Park.

The top 15 in each race earned medals. Picking up hardware was Knoch senior Daniel Deal (15th, 17:08).

Belle Vernon senior Grace Henderson, who won the Class AA girls race at Tri-States last week and was a three-time WPIAL state qualifier, hoped to challenge for the top spot Wednesday, but lower leg injury issues prevented her from taking to the White Oak course.

“She couldn’t really pinpoint when it happened,” Belle Vernon coach Chris Stasicha said. “I think the wear and tear of a long cross country season combined with playing soccer, it’s been bothering her for a while now. It’s a shame because she is one of the most talented runners in Western Pennsylvania with one of the top four times in Class AA in the state this year.”

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

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