Luke Whisel paces Gateway runners at soggy WPIAL championship race

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Sunday, November 8, 2020 | 11:01 AM


An unprecedented season for the Gateway cross country teams, altered at every turn because of the coronavirus pandemic, concluded Oct. 30 at the WPIAL championships at White Oak Park.

Considering changes to the race format in the weeks leading up to the meet, as well as weather challenges, coach Tom LaBuff said his runners performed well.

With rainy weather Oct. 28 and 29, coupled with many runners in the contested races for Class AA and Class A on Oct. 28, WPIAL officials felt the White Oak course needed one day’s rest and postponed the Class AAA races to Oct. 30.

“The kids were pretty resilient,” LaBuff said.

“They remained in a great place mentally for their races, and for the most part, they were happy with the way they performed, and I was, too.”

The WPIAL separated the 32-team Class AAA field into two heats with a “fast” heat of 17 teams followed two hours later by the second heat of 15 teams.

Gateway ran in the second heat with the likes of Canon-McMillan, Chartiers Valley (boys), Penn-Trafford, North Hills and Mars (girls). The Gators boys finished 22nd overall. The girls entered just three runners and were not eligible for a place in the team standings.

“Seeing how things turned out, looking at times comparative to what they ran before, running in the second heats cost the kids, on average, 25 to 30 seconds, just because of the course conditions. The first set of boys and girls races chopped that course up even more. It was rather sloppy.”

Senior Luke Whisel led the Gateway boys with a 41st-overall place finish in a time of 17 minutes, 24 seconds. He ran nine seconds faster and took 31st at the Tri-State Coaches meet at White Oak one week earlier.

Whisel held the lead in the second heat until he was passed at about the two-mile mark by Chartiers Valley junior Kaden Crump who went on to win the heat and place 30th overall (17:10).

Whisel finished second in the heat by nine seconds over North Hills junior Travis Larson.

“If he had been in the other heat, assuming he would’ve run the same kind of race because he probably wouldn’t have been out in the lead like he was, he probably would’ve finished another 10 to 15 places better and would have had a shot at a medal.

“But he finally got himself in a state of mind where he wasn’t acting like it was life or death. He went out and enjoyed his run knowing that the odds of getting a place out of that race were slim. He just wanted to go out in his last race and be happy with the way that he ran, and he did.”

Junior Brady Sundin was the second Gateway boys runner to finish. He took 108th with a time of 18:30.

Only the WPIAL team champion in each classification advanced to last Saturday’s state meet in Hershey.

For Class AAA, the top 10 boys and 10 girls finishers not on the first-place team, earned at-large bids to the PIAA championships.

Butler junior CJ Singleton captured his first WPIAL individual title in the Class AAA boys race, and North Allegheny claimed the team crown by 42 points over second-place Butler.

On the girls side, Gateway junior Kiyara Sawyers ran to a time of 21:17, good for seventh in the second heat and 64th overall.

Junior Emma Sandor finished 85th (21:45).

“The WPIAL did what they could,” LaBuff said. “But I still wasn’t pleased the WPIAL didn’t have all the teams run together because it was possible with the numbers.”

Of all the Gateway runners who competed at WPIALs, only two — Whisel and fellow senior Brendan Dorosiev — will move on because of graduation.

LaBuff said the runners eventually will turn their focus to opportunities over the winter and into what he hopes is a full-go spring track and field season.

“The kids really responded well to the message that they at least got the chance to run this fall,” LaBuff said. “Some of them went through losing the track season last spring, so they appreciated that and communicated it to some of the younger kids. Every time there would be a setback or they were disappointed with how something turned out, we reminded them that at least they were running, and they appreciated that.”

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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