North Allegheny cross country teams set for unique PIAA championship race

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Friday, November 6, 2020 | 4:14 PM


In a typical cross country meet, runners can see the competition ahead of them or hear their footsteps approaching from behind.

That’s not true this year.

Under covid-19 precautions, the PIAA championship will be run in multiple heats Saturday in Hershey, so North Allegheny coach John Neff gave his runners some advice.

“You can’t coast in,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘I’m going to take it easy on this stretch,’ because there’s going to be a kid coming 20 minutes after you who may beat you.”

Each boys or girls classification is divided into four heats spaced 15 minutes apart. The North Allegheny girls, as two-time defending state champions, will run in a heat with McDowell, Emmaus and St. Huberts. The NA boys, state champions in 2018, will be grouped with Allderdice, Parkland and LaSalle College.

“It’s weird, no doubt,” Neff said. “But with the way things are right now, there’s really no alternative.”

North Allegheny got a preview at the WPIAL championship, which also was run in multiple heats. Neff gave his runners the same advice then and they swept the WPIAL Class AAA team titles Oct. 28 at White Oak Park.

All seven NA runners finished in the Top 20 in a boys race with 210 competitors. In the girls race, the Tigers had four runners in the Top 20.

“I’m glad our kids got to go through that,” Neff said.

The WPIAL team title was the 31st overall for the NA boys, including 14 in the past 16 years. This was the 14th title overall and third in a row for the girls team.

It was the third year in a row that North Allegheny won both the WPIAL boys and girls titles in the same season. The Tigers also won both titles in 1997, ‘75 and ‘74.

“The kids just really showed how much they wanted it,” Neff said. “This really was the year too because there were a lot of good teams out there. … We certainly weren’t the only team that wanted it. I was impressed. It’s one thing to train. It’s one thing to have desire. It’s another thing to put it together on the day.”

Winning had added importance this season because the PIAA reduced the field for its championship to comply with covid-19 limits. Only the winning team and a small number of individual qualifiers from each WPIAL classification advanced to the state meet.

In Class 3A, beyond the championship team, the PIAA allowed an additional 10 boys and 10 girls runners to qualify. In Class 2A and A, seven additional runners from each classification qualified.

The Mohawk girls (Class A), Winchester Thurston boys (A), North Catholic girls (2A) and Greensburg Salem boys (2A) won the other WPIAL titles.

Among the at-large runners headed to Hershey are the six WPIAL individual champions: Butler’s C.J. Singleton (3A boys), Moon’s Mia Cochran (3A girls), Knoch’s Mike Formica (2A boys), Brownsville’s Jolena Quarzo (2A girls), Winchester Thurston’s Patrick Malone (A boys) and Shenango’s Carmen Medvit (A girls).

The PIAA meet starts with the first Class A girls heat at 9 a.m. It ends with the last Class 3A boys heat at 2:45 p.m.

Neff said his runners learned last weekend what it’s like to stand around after a race and hope your time holds up.

NA’s Scott Nalepa placed fourth in the WPIAL meet, Graham Wolfe was sixth, Gregory Kossuth seventh and Andrew Kollitz ninth. Just behind them were teammates Jackson Hickel in 14th, Michael Gauntner in 18th and Connor Foody in 20th.

All seven runners crossed the finish line in a 44-second span and then waited to find out if their times would be beaten in the next heat.

Said Neff: “It was a nervous 45 minutes or so waiting.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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