South Xtra: Lebo, Potts surge to the front of pack

High School Cross Country

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For the second time in as many years, Kelsey Potts won a race at the Red, White and Blue Classic cross country meet, which takes place annually at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park.

This year's title, however, was a bit more significant as Potts, a Mt. Lebanon High School sophomore, took top honors this past Saturday in the girls' varsity race with a record-setting time of 17 minutes, 47 seconds for the 5,000-meter distance.

"Last year, I won that race by more than a minute," Potts recalled of her winning effort in the 2012 girls junior varsity race. "In [this past Saturday's] race, I improved my time by about 90 seconds."

And she also had plenty of competition.

Vincentian Academy freshman Marianne Abdalah and North Allegheny sophomore Madeleine Davison ran with Potts for the better part of the race until Potts made good use of a technique she has developed since her freshman season.

"I didn't know how to surge last year," she said of the midrace sprinting technique cross country and track runners will use to put distance between themselves and their competitors. [Shaler Area standout] Brianna Schwartz is really good at surging in the middle of the race and able to maintain it until the end. I hope I can do that this year and stay with her."

Potts outlasted Abdalah by two seconds, and Davison broke the previous course record along with the two front-runners with a time of 17:55. The victory gave Potts some satisfaction. In a scrimmage held last month at Hartwood Acres featuring Mt. Lebanon, Hampton and Vincentian, Abdalah defeated Potts by 90 seconds.

Potts wasn't able to find out if her newly developed technique would work against Schwartz because Shaler's standout wasn't entered in this past Saturday's race. But, in what has to be considered a true sense of satisfaction, Potts broke Schwartz's course record of 18:07 that the Shaler junior set in last year's event.

What also pleased Potts and her coach. Ron Schreiner, is that the Blue Devils took top honors in the team event with a low score of 92 points. Morgantown (W.Va.) High was second with 119 points. When schools running in the smaller schools division were removed from the overall scoring, Mt. Lebanon was credited with 72 points, and Morgantown remained second with 92 points.

"We did expect to compete for team honors," said Schreiner, who has been associated with Mt. Lebanon track and cross country teams for the past 35 years.

A retired teacher, he has directed the girls program for the past 12 years.

"We had a terrific summer, and our team had a quiet confidence that they could run a great race and also have a good season," he said. "Not just this year, but in years to come, too."

Three of the teams top seven runners -- Jillian Hunsberger, Audrey Gordon and Callie Gunzenhauser -- are seniors. Nicole Dahlen, the team's No. 7 runner is a junior, while Potts and No. 4 runner Claire Dougherty are sophomores.

"We have two sophomores in our top five, but there is a possibility that a couple more [sophomores] could push into the top five," Schreiner said. "If that happens, maybe some seniors could get disappointed. But there's not an ounce of that on this team.

"It says 'Mt. Lebanon' on the front of the shirt, and we don't want anyone to put their [personal] agenda on the front of the shirt."

Potts believes her team can contend for top honors at the WPIAL and PIAA meets. And she also has some personal goals.

"I want to be able to stay with Brianna," she said. "[At Saturday's race], all of us surged, and once I got to within 700 meters of the finish, I surged again. That's what [Schwartz] does. Learning how to surge has helped me a lot, and I've gained the strength to do that."

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