West Xtra: OLSH runners are making some big plans

CROSS COUNTRY

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Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has laced up her running shoes.

Both the Chargers boys and girls cross country teams are vying for contention in Section 2-AA as well as the WPIAL.

Last Tuesday at Eden Christian Academy, the OLSH boys team upset 2011 PIAA Class AA champions Quaker Valley, 25-30. It was a muddy day, and senior Matt Haupt had to pick his way through Eden Christian's steep course. He led OLSH's boys' team, finishing second overall.

"I think we had to take somewhat of a conservative approach," recalled OLSH senior captain Dom DeSalle. "Eden has a dangerous course, with steep uphills and downhills. It can be really treacherous."

OLSH coach Bob Berg surmised that the Quaker Valley boys were also being careful.

"It was kind of a tactical race from the standpoint of our boys knowing that Quaker Valley is the defending state champion," Berg said. "But I think they were cautious, too."

Haupt and OLSH junior Nick Kocent stayed light-footed enough (yet fast enough) to beat the Quakers. In places four, five and six, Quaker Valley boys gained but did not overtake the front two Chargers. In the end, the OLSH boys took places seven and eight, escaping with victories against both Quaker Valley and Eden.

"We had run that course before," said DeSalle. "We knew the hard parts of the course."

The course knowledge allowed the Chargers to go fast enough to beat the ever-competitive Quakers.

The OLSH boys have not been alone in their successes this season. The girls team eked out a 25-33 victory against Eden Christian. The Chargers girls team has only nine active runners, but each one has her eyes on the postseason.

"I think the team competition is the most important thing," said junior Leyla Turcios. "Especially our freshmen -- I think they know what it means."

She explained that the OLSH girls want to go to the PIAA championship meet as a team.

Turcios noted the high competition level of her teammates and felt that many of them could clinch state meet berths as individuals.

"But it's so much more enjoyable to cross the line and look at the top five results," she said, referring to the Chargers' team-based priorities.

Turcios said that the OLSH girls thrive on the team placements that come from pack scores instead of personal bests.

The Chargers boys team echoed the girls team's goal of a PIAA team berth. The reason that the boys had run conservatively at Eden was to avoid injuries.

"Our goal was just to be careful," said DeSalle. "It's not worth risking an injury. We have to keep thinking about the bigger picture."

To DeSalle and the OLSH boys, the "bigger picture" is one of WPIALs and states.

With the PIAA having expanded the cross country championships to three classes, the goal of a state team berth is more realistic than ever for OLSH. Although the Chargers are competing in Section 2-AA, they will compete at the Class A level at the WPIAL championship meet on Oct. 25.

OLSH competed against Northgate and Sewickley Academy Wednesday in Section 2-AA.

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