The 2019 cross country season began with all the enthusiasm of an opening day as area athletes excelled at the Marty Uher Invitational held at California University of Pennsylvania.

“There is always a lot of excitement at the meet as it kicks off the invitational season,” Mt. Lebanon coach Oscar Shutt said.

Upper St. Clair coach Doug Petrick agreed.

“Cal U. is always a fantastic way to start the season,” he said.

The meet is also a precursor for what to expect this fall as the race is contested on the Roadman Park 5K course, the site of the WPIAL championships as well last October’s Tri-State Invitational.

“We’re lucky to run on this course three times over the course of one season,” Petrick said. “ All teams realize the importance of having multiple tries at the course ultimately determines who moves on to postseason racing at the end of the season. We are happy to see how much this event has grown, and it’s a testament to Coach Daniel Caulfield at Cal U.’s leadership that the quality of the races has kept progressing as well. There’s so many strong teams and athletes at this even because it helps raise the level of competition.”

Patrick Anderson and Emily Carter certainly have raised the bar when it comes to competition. Both reigning state champions in their specialty cross country and track events, they dominated the action at California University.

Anderson rolled to victory in the Class AAA Steel Division. The Lebo senior clocked a course-record 15:54 time in claiming his second straight title. A year ago, Anderson opened the season with a win in 16:40.

“It was good to get a race under my legs,” said Anderson. “I went into this blind and just wanted to see how I felt.”

Anderson felt so good he attacked the hills on the course and separated himself from the pack, which included Larry Josh. The Edwards University High runner finished second with a 16:18.10 time.

“At the start of the hills, I just took off,” Anderson said of his race strategy. “I’ve built up a lot of strength because I’ve had good workouts, good miles and good training this summer despite some knee issues.”

Anderson said he has been contending with tendonitis. He said it will be a challenge to defend his PIAA Class AAA title. He was the WPIAL runner-up before claiming the state crown and then going on to compete in the Foot Locker Nationals, placing 29th in the country.

“There is a lot of talent in the state,” he said, “and I have a lot of respect for those guys.”

Some of those guys are on his own team as the Blue Devils took the team title with 56 points. Anderson’s teammates Barak Asher (17:36.50), Swapnil Rana (17:51.90) and Matthew Quinn (18:01.60) all finished in the Top 15. Robert Winschel, Duncan LaDuke and Trey Reichenfeld followed in the top 30.

Zack Marmol of Peters Township finished third overall. The senior clocked a time of 16:52.80.

For USC, seniors Alex Shaw and Kasey Turner set the tone. They finished fifth and seventh, respectively. RJ Shontz, Derek Schuster and Nate Paul were the next three USC finishers, enabling the Panthers to take fifth place in the team standings.

Canon-McMillan had three runners in the Top 20. Among them were Joshua Wudkwych (11th), Doron Wudkwych (18th) and Logan Ford (19th).

Aaron Skerbetz was among the other local male runners to perform well. The South Fayette junior finished 14th overall.

In the girls meet, Carter dominated along with the USC and SF teams.

Carter, who set a state record in winning a PIAA track title in the 3,200-meter run this spring, raced to victory in the Class AAA division. The Bethel Park sophomore clocked an 18:36.10 time. The time was an improvement on last year’s mark of 19:03 when she finished third in the WPIAL.

USC claimed runner-up honors in the team standings while SF finished fifth.

“Upper St. Clair and South Fayette both looked very strong and deep so it will be a very challenging section this year,” said Shutt of the dual-meet season.

Carly Abraham led the Panthers. She finished sixth overall.

Jillian Fishell, Sophia Shi, Molly Maher and Vianna Shiry rounded out USC’s next four runners in the chute. All finished in the top 20.

“The girls ran a solid race,” Petrick said, “and Carly had a fantastic season debut.

“We were pleased with all our performances,” he continued. “We have a lot of new faces on the team, so getting in this race provided us with a lot of information to help navigate the next race. It’s a challenging and fun course that helps each athlete refine their racing toolkit.”

Lebo also learned a lot about their girls team, which consists of 22 freshmen. Their top three runners and seven of the top 11 were making their debuts at California University.

Freshman Gracie Petrich placed highest at 27th. Freshman Grace Kraemer, junior Alison Hodgson, sophomore Danielle Duncan and junior Emma Toussaint all finished in the top 40.

Lebo’s line-up also included seniors Caroline Brustoloni and Allison Small as well as freshmen Sophie Toussaint and Emma McGreevy. All placed in the top 75.

“We have a very young and inexperienced team,” Shutt said. “We had 17 girls experience the course for the first time. It is exciting to see some of the new runners have some success, and we hope to build on it as the season goes on to improve our times and placings.”

Among the other top girls to place in the top 30 were: Lizzie Brucker and Alexa Trax of Peters Township, eighth and 16th, respectively; South Fayette’s Lauren Iagnemma (12th), Gabby Baiano (23rd), Angelina Gabriel (25th) and Steffanie Kozak (28th) and Stephanie Keelon of Canon-McMillan finished in 22nd place.

In Class A/AA, Theresa Lyle placed 13th. The Seton LaSalle senior clocked a time of 23:05.40.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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