Cross Country: West Allegheny monkeys with its foes

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The West Allegheny boys cross country team won the Section 5-AAA title with a perfect 7-0 record.

The West Allegheny girls cross country team battled through injuries to finish 6-1 in Section 5-AAA.

Both teams are hungry for WPIAL honors.

Senior Brent Perry, for example, left it all on the course Oct. 2 against rival Moon. The Tigers and Indians were neck-and-neck at West Allegheny's Mark Russo Field, a hilly, two-loop course. Perry had long been hovering about the Indians' No. 5 position; course-ending miles were tough for him. But that day, Perry held on.

"He just hung on to the last mile and actually got a little faster," recalled West Allegheny coach Jim Hamilton.

Perry ran a 19:12 that day and the Indians edged out the Tigers, 28-29.

"Everyone ran their best races," said Hamilton.

This season, the best races have had tight packs for the Indians. Hamilton estimated subminute time differences between the No. 1 and No. 5 runners. The improvement is due to some general similarities and a lot of unusual team bonding.

"They make monkey noises," Hamilton said.

Seriously, the Indians like to catch people off-guard by making monkey noises while stretching. It's just one of the ways they stay loose and confident to gain victory on the course.

"I just laugh," said Hamilton. "People will walk by and it just makes everyone smile."

Hamilton attributed much of the West Allegheny boys team success to this chemistry.

"It doesn't matter if you're a senior or a sophomore. Everyone is treated equally," Hamilton said.

Although many members initiate social events and gatherings, a lot of those are planned by sophomore Zack White.

White has also been a strong No.3 runner on West Allegheny's varsity. Junior R.J. Freese is the Indians' leader, while Zach Salek, Sam Costa, Tom Bruni and Perry continue to unify the pack. Hamilton explained that the boys have completed faster workouts this season than in past years.

"The good news is that when they do the workouts, they're all beside each other," he said. "That's how you know they're better [this year.] Sometimes, running in a group is easy to say but hard to do in a race.

"I have had a different fifth man helping out most of the time. It doesn't really matter who it is -- this year we've had Tom Bruni Brent Perry, Matt Johnson ... they can be anywhere from the four-man to the seven-man."

One more runner with the potential to join the West Allegheny scoring contributors is Will Page, a sprinter on the school track team who is exploring his cross-country talents.

"He's getting a lot better at running cross country -- he's right around my eighth best right now," Hamilton said.

For the girls team, it has been all about a strong work ethic. The early season saw veterans Rebecca Lawrence and Danna Heh miss time with injuries. As consistent three and four runners, Lawrence and Heh left the team with a gap to fill. But senior Milayna Donne and junior Catherine Roberts were ready to step up and help.

"They're probably the two most improved girls," said Hamilton.

Donne and Roberts had been runners on the JV team before Lawrence's and Heh's injuries. But this year, Donne and Roberts have been in the No. 3 to No. 5 range for the Indians.

Lawrence and Heh have recently re-entered the lineup for West Allegheny.

"They're getting better -- that's the good news," said Hamilton.

The other good "news" is that sophomore Alexis O'Shea and senior Adelle Collins are still at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.

"I can guarantee the girls are not one of the top three on people's lists [as WPIAL championship favorites] right now, and we shouldn't be," said Hamilton.

But he does believe the girls are hovering in the fourth- to sixth-place range among WPIAL Class AA teams.

"We have to get a little lucky to make sure we're one of the top three on that day but it's very possible," he said. "We're hoping this is the biggest surprise at WPIALs."

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