It’s a cliche, but you have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Freeport cross country runner Shane Sarver.
By 7 a.m. most summer mornings, Sarver could be seen running the hills and trails at Harrison Hills Park, Harrison. He prepared for his senior season on Freeport’s first varsity cross country team by running with former Highlands standout Tom Slosky. They logged five to eight miles most days.
All the hard work could lead to a big finish at the WPIAL cross country championships Thursday afternoon at Slippery Rock University.
“I’m looking to go top 5,” Sarver said. “That’s a wide open course, so it’s a good place to watch a race.”
Freeport coach Bob Livrone expects Sarver’s high mileage to make a difference.
“Dedication is the thing with Shane,” Livrone said. “If a guy is going to be good in this sport, he has to be dedicated to it.”
Sarver will be challenged in the boys Class AA race by Ford City’s Andy McClelland, another top local runner expected to finish near the top.
Sarver finished 13th in 17:39 and led all local runners in a field of 235 at WPIALs last year.
McClelland was right behind in 14th place at 17:41 and also looks to move up this time.
“The thing about Andy is he loves to run,” Ford City coach Jim Simmons said. “He’s got the mechanics. He’s built for running and he breathes like a runner. The harder I work him, the less he breathes.
“Andy has natrual, God-given talent, and when you have a runner like that, you just try to work with it,” Simmons said.
McClelland has experience in big races. He finished 137th in the PIAA championship race last year.
“The biggest problem with a lot of kids on this (Slippery Rock University) course is they go out too fast,” Simmons said. “You never win it in the first mile, but you sure can lose it.”
With dry weather in the weather forecast, mud and wind might not be major factors as in recent years on the 3.1-mile Slippery Rock Universtiy course. The race course winds across open fields.
“The most difficult part is the last mile winding up the back of the hill,” Kiski Area cross country coach Missy Schaeffer said. “Once they reach the two-mile mark, it winds up the back of the hill.”
The last half mile is a slightly downhill trip with a flat finish for runners with any kick left.
Fox Chapel will make its first trip to the WPIAL’s under the guidance of coach Mark Schwartz, who has been coaching track and cross country from club level to college for 36 years. Schwartz replaced Jay Seward, who retired last spring after 33 years coaching track and cross country at Fox Chapel.
Where: Slippery Rock University.
When : 2:30-4 p.m., Thursday.
Top local boys: Shane Sarver, Freeport; Andy McClelland, Ford City; Kyle Leister, Fox Chapel; Brendan Reilly, Freeport; Ryan Urik, Highlands; Shaun Visnesky, Freeport; Chris Deriggi, Plum; Tony Russo, Plum; Justin Fantuzzo, Highlands; Steve Mszyco, Kiski Area; Erik Suchevich, Kiski Area; Pete Coe, Riverview; Chris Lackey, Riverview; Alex Rowland, Fox Chapel; Ben Fiorillo, Fox Chapel; Kyle Reeping, Shady Side Academy; Adam Daniels, Kittanning and Pedro Moura, Shady Side Academy.
Top local girls: Melanie Lutz, Freeport; Kirsten Knappenberger, Freeport; Tanisha Wheatley, Kiski Area; Meaghan Conroy, Kiski Area; Kara Weichler, Plum; Lindsey Pugh, Highlands; Alissa Slater, Fox Chapel; Rachel Humphrey, Fox Chapel; Rachel Twigg, Plum; Rachel Frye, Plum; Jess Youra, Plum; Chrissy Ostrowski, Riverview; Tyler Myers, Riverview; Leigh Ann Jordan, Riverview; Natalie Saxon, Riverview; Lizzie Carrey, Fox Chapel and Katie Roll, Shady Side Academy.