Norwin runners benefit from strength-in-numbers mentality

Saturday, September 26, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Norwin cross country isn’t always about crossing the finish line first. Or last, for that matter.

Coach Brian Fleckenstein likes to take to social media, particularly Twitter, to make the sport more fun. It is something that has bonded his runners.

“Running is hard,” the coach said. “Our sport is most people’s sports’ punishment. We have to keep the kids engaged and part of the family. We really try to promote and encourage everyone on the team from the top kid to our 50th kid.”

The all-inclusive atmosphere gives Norwin a sense of pride, as well as strength in numbers.

Take the team’s “Aerobic Monster Knight” at an early season practice. The event recognized the top mile leaders from the summer. Micah Gaydos logged 555 miles and Katherine Dansak, 435.

Everyone got a fluorescent yellow T-shirt. Fleckenstein shared the event on Twitter.

Fleckenstein also tweets about the team’s progress, sets goals on the social media platform and adds pictures of workouts and meets.

“We try to promote the sport as best we can,” he said. “Anything I can do and we can do to promote cross country is in the best interest of the sport. Cross country coaches are the best in terms of sharing and promoting the sport. It’s such a great thing to be a part of.”

As for Norwin’s on-course product this season, the boys have to replace a number of key runners who led the Knights to an unbeaten regular season, a section title, a county title and a near-top-five finish in the WPIAL.

Senior Alex Jubert is one to watch after he placed 27th at the PIAA race last season — the highest finish for a Norwin male runner at the state meet since 1996.

“Hopefully, we have a state meet and Alex gets to get on that medal stand,” his coach said. “He is off to a great start with impressive wins against Kiski (16 minutes, 35 seconds) and setting the course record at Greensburg Salem (16:28).”

More varsity experience comes from seniors John Dodaro and Luke Weyandt. Seniors Cullen Shipley and Dan Smith are newcomers.

Junior Luke Weyandt, senior Gavin Hladek and sophomore Andres Breauchy round out the varsity lineup.

After a slightly down season by their standards, the girls return with a year of experience in hand. With that being said, there are new faces and fresh legs.

Six of the top seven starters are first-year runners.

Sophomore Emma Jiancristoforo was the top finisher in an early scrimmage. She splits time between cross country and soccer.

Freshmen Rosemary Gaydos and Audra Fedor are other key contributors, along with Julia Walko and Avery Davis and junior newcomer Rebecca Testa.

A deep team that stretches 12 to 15 runners down the line, it also includes juniors Alex Walton and Layla Robertson, while juniors Triniti Joy, Maddie Butina and Katherine Dansak are battling back into the pack.

“It’s a nice problem to have to decide who gets to compete in these limited number meets,” Fleckenstein said of the depth.

The Knights hope to compete with the state’s best, but first, the WPIAL.

“It is definitely tough anymore because the WPIAL has dominated the state the last few years,” Fleckenstein said. “Our district is the most competitive in state with talented teams, individuals and programs.”

Fleckenstein began coaching distance runners in track in 2005 and took over as head coach in 2012. He became track and field coach four years later.

An interesting note is he coached basketball at Union City from 2000-04 and lost to Jeannette and Terrelle Pryor twice in the PIAA Class AA playoffs.

But running is what stokes his competitive fire most.

“I have been actively involved in running since my older brother ran in late 1980s at Punxsutawney High School,” he said. “Over the years, I personally have had some of the best coaches and had privilege of coaching with some of the best coaches and people.”

When track and field shut down in the spring because of covid-19, Fleckenstein became familiarized with the Portland Coaches Group via Zoom. The group, which has met close to 30 times, has coaches from across the country.

“We discuss team culture promotion, training strategies, race information and more,” Fleckenstein said. “This has been the silver lining of the pandemic for me. In running, everyone shares and wants to promote the sport. There’s very little ego and self-promotion in coaching running.”

The program also keeps tabs on athletes who are competing at the college level. Fleckenstein said seven former Knights are competing at the Division I level for track or cross country.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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