Knoch’s Mike Formica has high expectations for PIAA championship meet

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Friday, November 6, 2020 | 4:50 PM


Mike Formica stood on the top of the mountain Oct. 28 at White Oak Park as the newly crowned WPIAL Class 2A boys cross country champion.

Now, the Knoch senior hopes to cap his high school career with one final solid run Saturday at the PIAA championships in Hershey.

“I want to have a similar strategy for states as I did (at WPIALs), not to go out too fast and keep myself in the race and try to get the highest possible place I can get,” said Formica, who rose to the top spot at WPIALs with a time of 16 minutes, 15 seconds, two seconds ahead of the runner-up, Ringgold freshman Ryan Pajak, and five seconds faster than third-place finisher, Greensburg Salem senior Quintin Gatons.

Formica will race at states for the first time.

“For Mike, this started in March when he lost his track season,” Knoch coach Wess Brahler said. “He refocused himself to be ready for cross country. He wanted to do something special. He ran strong and confident (at WPIALs). I am really looking forward to what he can do at states.”

With covid-19 protocols in place, the PIAA established a schedule of staggered start times for the four boys and four girls races. Class A girls begins everything at 9 a.m., and races continue nonstop through the final Class 3A boys race at 2:45 p.m.

Pennsylvania Cable Network will have a live stream of stationary points along the course starting at 9 a.m.

In a change from previous seasons, the PIAA set the qualifying lists to include only the team champions from each district and a select group of individuals not on the winning squad. For the WPIAL, the top 10 individuals in Class 3A qualified as did the top seven for both Class 2A and Class A.

Formica will run at 12:45 p.m.

“It’s going to be different, for sure, but it’s also something I’m excited for,” Formica said.

“It’s going to be a smaller race, and there will be less of a chance of things like getting boxed in happening. It will be kind of nice to have a smaller field.”

While Formica will make his WPIAL debut, another senior, Riverview’s Mason Ochs, will run in Hershey for the third time.

Ochs, the WPIAL Class A runner-up (16:29) to Winchester Thurston senior Patrick Malone (16:26), is used to running at states with his Raiders teammates. This year, despite Riverview taking second at WPIALs for the fifth year in a row, Ochs will run alone.

He hopes to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish in Hershey. He is scheduled to run at 10:45 a.m.

“I glanced at the individual state rankings after my (WPIAL) race,” Ochs said.

“Everything had been so focused on WPIALs. I see some really good competition, and I think it’s going to be a fun race. Again, I just wish I could be there and run at states with my teammates. But it is good to know that I can at least go there and represent them. I have one good race left in me, and I am going to give it my all.”

Kiski Area freshman Eliza Miller and Fox Chapel freshman Laura Carter have enjoyed breakout seasons, and they will make their PIAA debuts Saturday. They will run out of the same starting block at 1:45 p.m.

Miller, who placed first at the Kiski Invitational and the Division 1, Section 4 championships, and was second at the Westmoreland County meet and seventh at Tri-States at White Oak, finished fifth overall at WPIALs with a time of 18:48.

“Eliza is very excited for her run at states,” Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky said. “She’s ready to go out and have fun and compete against some of the best athletes in the country. She was aggressive at WPIALs, and she left it all out on the course.”

Carter took sixth at WPIALs in a time of 18:53. She bettered her time of 19:26.83 from Tri-States.

“Everything is kind of new to her, so she’s just taking it all in and enjoying the process,” Fox Chapel coach Tom Moul said. “I think she has the mental toughness to go out there, even as a freshman, and perform well. She has adjusted so well to the consistency of the training. I am excited to see how good she will do.”

Moul said Carter’s finish at WPIALs was somewhat bittersweet as freshman teammate Clara Kelley, while earning a top-15 medal (13th, 19:12), missed a trip to states by the slimmest of margins.

Video replay was used to determine Pine-Richland freshman Angelina Hunkele and Seneca Valley senior Dylan Kirchner edged out Kelley by less than a second for the final at-large state berths.

“That was heartbreaking for everyone,” Moul said. “Clara was hurting a little bit at the end of the race. She usually has such a strong finish, but she just didn’t have it at WPIALs. But Clara trained with Laura all week, and that’s been a huge help in Laura getting ready.”

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

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