At any level of athletics, attitude can be the difference between success and failure. Between first and fifth place.
North Allegheny High School cross country coach Jim LeDonne has the perfect attitude as his boys' team prepares to go after the PIAA Class AAA team title Saturday in Hershey, Pa.
"If you don't go in with the idea you are going to win then you are going to fall short," he said shortly after the Tigers won the WPIAL Class AAA title for the third consecutive year at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock last week.
It was a given North Allegheny would win the WPIAL crown this season. The Tigers' first five finishers placed in the top 26 at Cooper's Lake and they dusted off a strong Seneca Valley team, 63-96.
But there's a major difference between winning WPIAL and PIAA titles.
The PIAA championships at the 3.1-mile Parkview course will get under way at 9 a.m. Saturday with the Class AA girls' race. It is followed at 10 a.m. by the Class AAA girls' race with the Class AA boys' event at 11 and Class AAA boys' competition at noon.
North Allegheny has won nine PIAA boys' titles, but none since 1997. The previous WPIAL school to capture the PIAA Class AAA boys' crown was Mt. Lebanon in 1998. Since then, North Hills has come the closest with a second-place finish in 2003.
"This is the strongest team we've taken to states in a long time," LeDonne said.
Seniors Matt Jacob and Justin Taylor paced the Tigers at the WPIAL final, placing second and third overall. Senior Dan O'Brien was 14th, junior Will Appman was 18th and freshman Ryan Gill was 26th.
"We've handled the pressure by just taking it one race at a time," Jacob said. "We had a bunch of guys put together some pretty good races [at the WPIAL championships]. We'll see what we can do at states."
North Penn and Upper Dublin, which finished ahead of North Allegheny at the Carlisle Invitational in late September, figure to challenge for the PIAA title along with Cumberland Valley.
While North Allegheny's margin of victory at the WPIAL championships was greater last year -- the Tigers topped Seneca Valley, 53-152 -- LeDonne said his team is better this season.
"We ran better this year but the competition was much stronger," he said. "We didn't score as well, but that's because there are so many strong runners and teams in the area."
Individually, Neshannock senior Kacey Gibson will be going after her second consecutive PIAA Class AA title. No female runner from the WPIAL has won consecutive titles at the PIAA level since Baldwin's Carole Zajac in Class AAA in '88 and '89.
Latrobe junior Natalie Bower was fourth at the PIAA meet last year in Class AAA and hopes to move up a place or two.
Baldwin senior David Adley will be out to keep his remarkable season going. He won the WPIAL Class AAA title last week after finishing 26th last year. Adley placed ninth at the PIAA Foundation meet on the Parkview course earlier this year.
Latrobe won the WPIAL Class AAA girls' title this year and took a PIAA title two years ago. Coach Terri Curci said she would be pleased with a top-five finish by the Wildcats.