Ligonier Valley cross country team battle tested heading into WPIAL meet

Monday, October 25, 2021 | 9:53 AM

Ligonier Valley’s cross country season has been a battle. But that has undoubtedly left the Rams battle tested.

“The WPIAL set us up more like a geographical area for our section, which is something we really like,” said coach Al Fiorina. “We’re competing against 3A teams and a few 2A teams. And we’re Single-A. So that has impacted our win-loss record, but it has given us an opportunity to prove ourselves as individuals on the team.”

The good news, according to Fiorina? When Ligonier Valley travels to Cal (Pa.) on Oct. 28 for the WPIAL championship, the Rams will have a chance to compete against similar-sized schools.

“You never know. When we go there, we move down to Single-A. That’s who we’ll be running against,” Fiorina said. “Not to say that there aren’t good runners in Single-A, but it sort of levels the playing field for us.”

Ligonier Valley has had a bit of a roster crunch, especially on the boys side. They have six male runners and lost two to covid-19 issues during the year.

Because of that, the record has taken a hit. The Rams went 1-8 overall and 1-5 in section meets.

“But we’ve had some great performances,” added Fiorina, who is in his 19th season.

One of those strong showings came from senior Tucker Klotz, who placed second at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet Oct. 13. His time of 17 minutes, 5.50 seconds was just three seconds off of the Ligonier Valley school record.

“He was also second in the meet at IUP and, in both of those races, he led the race until about the final 800 meters,” Fiorina said.

Klotz and junior Aidan Brisendine play soccer in addition to running, and that has meant that they are not always free to practice. Another senior, Ryan Zimmerman, has stepped up to impress Fiorina.

Because of the low numbers, Fiorina knows that, from a team standpoint, success at the WPIAL meet will be hard to come by. So Ligonier Valley will focus on individual times.

“Not matter what, we’re going to go and do our best,” he said. “The boys have been doing the best they can as a team.”

There is a little more team optimism for the girls, who placed seventh overall at last year’s WPIAL championship.

“We’re very excited,” Fiorina said. “(Senior) Maddie Smith and (sophomore) Clara Wallace have battled each other for first place (on the team). The nice thing is, though, we have girls behind them that are supporting.”

Those girls include sophomores Lyla Barr and Hollie Queer and freshman Gabby Palmer. Smith finished 30th overall last year at the district meet, best among all Rams runners.

The girls squad had top five finishes at meets at IUP and in Altoona this season. The Rams were 7-1 in nonsection meets, and 3-5 in section.

Fiorina believes that his program, and others, are still feeling the impact of covid-19, and that attracting young people to such a demanding sport has been a particular challenge during the pandemic. But as life returns to normalcy, he hopes that his team will continue to grow.

“With the way school was run and alternate schedules last year, I think it impacted being able to recruit more kids,” he said. “It carried over this year, because we didn’t have many kids get experience last year.”

“But the kids we have, have done a good job.”


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