Renewed hope takes over for Gateway track and field athletes

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Sunday, April 4, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Gateway track and field head coach Tom LaBuff is used to spending the spring coaching Gators athletes to top finishes at meets and invitationals.

So, it took some time for him, his fellow Gateway coaches and the athletes to process last spring’s season cancellation by the PIAA amid growing covid concerns.

Disappointment now has turned to renewed hope for what the 2021 high school track and field season can become for the Gators, and LaBuff said he’s anxious to see how the members of both the boys and girls teams can improve and perform.

“Things have been going well so far,” LaBuff said. “The kids we have are working hard. The year off kind of put a damper on recruiting of (team members) and we lost some kids who kind of lost their enthusiasm, shall we say. It also was tough to see a number of kids lose that year of development. But I am glad to see the progress made over the past couple of weeks. It’s great that we can be out there getting ready to compete, and I am glad the PIAA is doing everything it can to keep things as normal as possible.”

The Gateway teams kicked off their Section 5-AAA schedule March 30 under sunny skies and amidst warm temperatures against McKeesport at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium. The Tigers boys edged the Gators, 73-71, while the Gateway girls scored a 75-59 victory.

“We hadn’t had too many bad-weather days in March,” LaBuff said. “You hope you can get outside and get some good work in without rain or snow or freezing temperatures. We had that good weather, and the kids were happy to get outside a lot early.”

LaBuff said the meet against McKeesport was beneficial in getting an early look at where his athletes stood in their progress and how they stacked up in a competitive atmosphere.

Gateway was to face Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic on Wednesday, past the deadline for this week’s edition. The Gators also will take on Franklin Regional, Woodland Hills, Penn Hills and Plum in section meets leading up to the Baldwin Invitational on May 7-8.

Those competition opportunities give the Gateway athletes a chance to post times, heights and distances they hope will put them among the top 24 in their events to qualify for the WPIAL Class AAA championships May 20 at Slippery Rock.

Smaller-than-normal rosters on both sides, LaBuff said, have made it interesting as it relates to planning out meet lineups in attempts for victory.

Amaya Robinson knows all about competing at WPIALs. As a freshman in 2019, the sprinter placed 10th in the 100-meter dash and 13th in the 200.

“She is definitely one of the leaders on the track,” LaBuff said. “I am hoping she can be more vocal, but she leads so well by example. She works her tail off and does anything you ask her to do.”

Robinson also was in the mix, along with seniors Cenaiya Burgher and Christabelle Livsey, in the 400 relay that took 18th at WPIALs two years ago.

Livsey, LaBuff said, has potential to be a standout high hurdler and jumper, and freshman Kierra Pitts is expected to be a factor in the hurdles.

LaBuff said the distance group is solid with juniors Kierra Sawyers, Marina Grado and Emma Sander leading the way.

He said juniors Megan McFetridge (middle distance) and Meredith Geno (pole vault) also are among those expected to contribute.

On the boys side, senior Jayson Jenkins, juniors Cooper Hayes and Michael Stuckey, sophomore Chris Livsey, and freshman Chase Arrington are among those all running close to each other in the sprints.

“A lot of the sprinters are working hard on their form and are getting better,” LaBuff said. “We had a lot of personal bests against McKeesport in the 100 and 200. They also got their eyes opened to the competition. There were a lot of close races on the track overall.”

Derrick Davis, who placed 11th in the 200 and 15th in the 100 at WPIALs as a sophomore in 2019, graduated from Gateway in December, enrolled early at LSU and is participating in the Tigers’ spring football practices.

LaBuff said senior Jayden Hurt has physically matured and is covering the jumps. He leaped 22 feet, 4 inches in Gateway’s scrimmage March 26.

“He should be a factor in the jumps at WPIALs,” LaBuff said.

Jenkins and senior Omarion Davidson, LaBuff said, provide strength and competitiveness in the hurdles.

Senior Luke Whisel, a key member of the cross country team in the fall, is at the core of the distance contingent, along with junior Brady Sundin and freshman Kefimba Cisse.

Junior Gavin Reed, LaBuff said, has emerged as the leader in the throws.

“You want to figure out who can go where, and you want the kids to run the events they want to run, but at the same time, you want to spread them out so they can be competitive on the track team-wise, LaBuff said.

“We’ll see how it goes, but I am really happy with the work ethic.”

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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