Latrobe cross country teams off to strong starts, eye big-meet success

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Monday, September 27, 2021 | 10:13 AM


Christmas season isn’t here yet, but Todd Simpson is ready to hang some ornaments.

To Simpson, Latrobe’s long-time cross country coach, “ornaments” are another word for the trophies and medals that decorate the hallways of the school.

And he has reason to be festive.

About the midway point of the season, the Wildcats’ boys team had gathered a 3-1 record in section and a 4-2 overall mark.

But it’s the girls who seem to have the most potential at Latrobe. They are unbeaten through the first six meets.

“So far, so good,” said Simpson, who is eager for an upcoming meet with Norwin and Hempfield to decide the section title. “It’s hard to say who our top runner is. We have three top girls who have taken turns at the No. 1 spot in our meets so far.”

That’s a good problem.

Pacing the team is Clara Herr, who placed 20th as a freshman at last year’s WPIAL AAA championships.

“She would have qualified for the state championships last year if we hadn’t had the field cut back severely because of the covid restrictions,” Simpson said. “We’re hoping that she can round into form here as the season moves towards the end and claim one of those state qualifying spots.”

Lexie Planinsek and her twin sister, Lizzie, bring experience to the Wildcats. But it’s a pair of freshmen who have Simpson really excited.

Emerson Skatell has impressively transitioned from a strong middle school career to high school.

“She was last year’s junior high champion for the Westmoreland area,” Simpson said. “She’s stepped very nicely up to the longer distance of varsity. She’s won two of our five meets so far among her teammates.

“We’re very excited about seeing where she can go throughout the course of her career but also right now.”

A freshman transfer from the Erie area, Carley Berk — who figures to be a solid basketball player for Latrobe — has been a pleasant surprise for Simpson, as well.

The boys squad is in a bit of a transition year after the graduation of four seniors who finished in the top 84 spots at last year’s WPIAL meet. That group included Dane Frescura, who placed 12th, and Joseph Hill, who ended up 25th.

“We’re having a little bit of growing pains,” Simpson said. “We had some tremendous seniors that took a lot of talent and success out the door with them. We did not replace their numbers, nor their talent, to this point, yet.”

That’s not to say the cupboard is bare.

Drew Kozuch, a junior, finished 19th at the district finals last year and was part of the lineup that finished 6th as a team in Class AAA.

“We’re looking forward to seeing him progress as the season winds down and, hopefully, make it to the state meet,” said Simpson, adding that Kozuch — like Herr — would have qualified last year if not for the pandemic.

Two more juniors, Koen Fulton and August Lawrence, have sparked in races, finishing in the top spot among Wildcats runners.

Simpson, in his 12th year as Latrobe’s coach, has defined goals for the teams.

“To win the section and win the county meet along the way. Those are nice-looking ornaments for the lobby at the gymnasium,” he said. “Then you see how things go, and your expectations go upward or downwards.

“But both teams are about what we were hoping for.”

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