Sandor, Sundin, Cisse lead Gateway runners at Section 4 championship meet

Sunday, October 10, 2021 | 11:01 AM

The Gateway boys and girls cross country teams have their eyes focused on preparation for the WPIAL Class AAA championships in a couple of weeks at Cal (Pa.).

The Gators were able to test their progress with competition at last week’s Division I, Section 4 championship meet at Northmoreland Park.

For the sixth year, Gateway joined teams such as Fox Chapel, Kiski Area, Plum and Central Catholic/Oakland Catholic in the special one-day championship event, as opposed to the more traditional series of dual or tri-meets.

Gateway coach Tom LaBuff said that the meet was somewhat of a mixed bag for his runners. But he also said it was a good opportunity to face some solid competition leading to the stretch run before WPIALs.

“It was a dual-meet situation, and we tried to make something of it with resting the kids before it. It was like a tempo run but with competition,” Gateway coach Tom LaBuff said.

“The kids know coming out of the meet what they need to work on.”

The section meet at Northmoreland Park came just a little over two weeks after a number of the same teams were not able to compete there. The Kiski Area Invitational from Sept. 17 on the same course was canceled the morning of the meet because of police activity in the park.

But several of the Gateway runners had experience on the course from past seasons.

“We just wanted them to compete out here,” LaBuff said. “For some reason, we have never particularly run well overall on this course. We have had some good runs on the course, including (at the section meet). That second mile with the hill is tough. You have to put yourself in position for it. You can’t just kind of hang in there and think you are going to run people down.”

Last Wednesday’s meet was contested in afternoon temperatures that hovered near 80 degrees.

The Gators girls team placed fourth overall with a 5-3 dual record. It came up short against section champion Oakland Catholic, runner-up Fox Chapel and third place Kiski Area, but the five wins included victories against Armstong (fifth), Plum (sixth) and Indiana (seventh).

Senior Emma Sandor led Gateway in the individual standings with a ninth-place finish in a time of 21 minutes, 50.3 seconds.

She came into the meet off a 13th-overall performance against runners from close to three dozen schools at the Bald Eagle Invitational on Oct. 2 at White Oak Park.

“We usually run meets in the morning when its cooler, but we have practice in the afternoon when it’s warmer,” Sandor said.

“We try to be ready to run in the warmer temperatures. But running in that for over 20 minutes; it did have a little bit of an effect on me. I did pretty well, but I know I could’ve done better. That hill in the middle, you have to be ready for it.”

Senior Kiyara Sawyers, who LaBuff said had been battling sickness leading up to the meet, placed 19th overall in 23:40.7.

The Gateway boys had back-to-back top-10 finishers at the section meet as senior Brady Sundin and sophomore Kefimba Cisse took fifth and sixth, respectively.

“I didn’t feel too great today, to be honest,” Sundin said. “I don’t know why, but it is what it is. You can’t have a great race every time. I just want to continue to work on getting myself ready to run well at WPIALs.”

Fox Chapel senior Jack Lorence, who finished first at the season-opening Gateway Invitational with Sundin second, won the individual section title with a time of 17:02.3.

“The first mile was pretty good, but that second mile killed me,” Cisse said.

“I feel pretty good, and it’s nice to know I am dropping time even though I’ve been injured in my knees for the past few weeks. I have a condition called Osgood-Schlatter Disease where the patella (tendon) pulls on my knee cap. It causes bumps on my knees. I’ve been wearing braces recently to help with that.”

Sundin and Cisse were the only two from the boys team to place in the individual top 40. The Gators took sixth overall with a 3-5 dual record.

Sundin and Cisse also were among the top runners at the Bald Eagle Invitational taking sixth and 18th, respectively.

“There are (two) weeks left until WPIALs, so there is time to taper down and also get some of the kids healthy,” LaBuff said shortly after the section meet concluded.

“We have a couple of other meets between then and now, and hopefully we can make some good progress.”

Gateway was slated to run at the annual Mingo Classic at Mingo Creek Park in Washington County on Tuesday (Oct. 12).

Gateway’s final tune-up for WPIALs is Oct. 21 at the Tri-State Coaches meet on the same Cal (Pa.) course where WPIALs will be run Oct. 28.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .


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