Norwin uses ‘pack mentality’ to rack up cross country success

Saturday, October 15, 2022 | 11:01 AM

From the youth level to varsity, the Norwin cross country teams are outpacing the field with regularity.

The boys and girls varsity teams posted perfect 8-0 records during the regular season and were primed for strong finishes at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet and in the WPIAL playoffs.

“This truly has been one of the hardest if not the hardest-working distance squads I have ever coached,” coach Brian Fleckenstein said. “The group bought in from Day 1 of training and, really, it started last winter when they showed up daily for one of the worst winters we’ve ever had.

“They just consistently put in the mileage and fought through any adversity that arose.”

Norwin used the Strava app this year to track miles and enhance their training.

“They really bought in and it held them accountable for their own mileage all summer and allowed them to bond with the group,” Fkeckenstein said.

The high-water mark may have come Oct. 4 when the teams closed out the regular season with wins, which coincided with the middle school teams winning the WAADA Championship.

“Any day the Knights close out the season with perfect records across the board is a great day,” Fleckenstein said.

Norwin also won the Blue Devil Invitational in Sharpsville with a clean sweep. All six titles went to the Knights — varsity, JV and middle school.

The varsity boys team finished 19th in WPIAL Class 3A last year.

“The boys have really turned the program around,” Fleckenstein said. “We took some lumps the last few years, but we have consistently finished in the top 5 of WPIAL teams so far this year in the big meets.”

The girls varsity team is morphing into something special. Fleckenstein used the word “powerhouse” when describing them.

“The girls have lost very few, if any, races since they were in seventh grade,” he said.

Fleckenstein and his staff preach “pack mentality” to the runners.

“It is much easier to go out and race with your teammates,” the coach said. “The key to successful cross country teams is the strength of the pack.”

The proof is in the numbers. The boys team has a narrow, 35-second spread between its first and fifth runners: Andres Breauchy, Noah Wilson, Thomas Gaydos, Enzo Jiancristoforo, and Oliver Hinson.

That makes the Knights a tough team to match because scores are so low.

Breauchy has owned the top spot. He was seventh at the Blue Devil Invitational when Norwin edged out favorite Eden Christian.

Wilson ran well in a Section 1 win over Hempfield.

Gaydos is a 14-year-old sophomore who has worked to earn the No. 3 spot.

Fleckenstein said the boys junior varsity team is the best that level has seen in the program.

“We have about nine runners on our JV that could be varsity runners at a lot of schools,” he said.

Freshman Annie Czajkowski, followed by the pack of Rosemary Gaydos, Audra Fedor, Elin Bash, and Emma Jiancristoforo have paced the varsity girls.

Czajkowski took 20th at the 70-plus-team Red, White & Blue Invitational. She was the top-placing freshman among more than 800 girls.

She was second at the Blue Devil Invitational (18:57), breaking 19 minutes for the first time in the program since Jenna Kuhn in 2010.

Last year, Czajkowski broke Norwin 2009 PIAA champion Leslie Kovach’s middle school record.

Gaydos has been consistently second, while the Lady Knights’ other key runners are Fedor, Bash, Jiancristoforo and Anna Rakvic.

Bash also plays soccer for Norwin.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at


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