North Xtra: Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic is running out a new program this year

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New school. New location. And, in the case of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, several new teams will make their debut when the school opens its doors at its brand, spankin' new campus located along state Route 228 in Cranberry Township this month.

One of those teams is the cross country team that will be guided by Stacy Kopchak, who is beginning her first year as a high school coach. The sport is returning following a six-year hiatus.

Kopchak is no stranger to running as she has competed in a number of races for the past 20 years.

"I started with 5Ks and as my children got older, I started doing 10Ks and half marathons, and then I got into marathons," said Kopchak, 50. "I've run more than 20 marathons, and then I got into long-distance running -- 50ks, 50-milers and 100-mile races. I've run four 100-mile races, and I'm training for another one that I'll do in September."

For the past eight years, she coached grade school cross country at St. Alphonsus School in Pine, and helped coordinate the annual Pittsburgh Diocesan Grade School Cross Country Championships at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.

Kopchak said the biggest difference between coaching on the grade school level and the high school level is how attentive the older athletes are.

"I don't need a megaphone anymore dealing with high school kids," she said. "It's exciting, and they're a lot older.

"The students attending Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic have run at different Catholic [grade] schools. I've learned to be patient, considering we're all starting from scratch. It's a new program, and we're all very much excited and we're gradually going to increase our mileage and improve."

The Trojans will compete in Division II, Section 2, which features some Beaver County teams along with some closer geographic rivals such as Avonworth, Northgate, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Vincentian.

"This will be a great place for us to start as a young team and gain experience," she said of her section affiliation. "I've met with a lot of coaches from these [section] schools, and they practice at North Park. I think that's a good start. As the school grows, that may change as our enrollment increases."

Kopchak said eight athletes appear to be her most promising runners. They include senior Olivia Newcamp, sophomore Jonathan Dunham and six freshmen: Jessica Cannon, Matthew Esser, Kopchak's daughter Rylee Kopchak, Sophia Muller, Joey Schmitzer and Christopher Virostek.

Kopchak said she needs at least one more boy and girl to have a team that can register a team score, and she's confident that will be the case. In addition to the athletes mentioned, several more have been participating during informal workouts. She's hoping more will be inspired to join the team in the weeks preceding the school's opening.

Kopchak believes the team eventually will have an on-campus course for its races. This season, however, she said her team likely will compete at a course that will be laid out near Pie Traynor Field in North Park.

She believes that her personal involvement with the sport will inspire her charges.

"I think that it's an advantage to have a coach who runs every day at practice," she said. "I'm right with them. I've done speed work with them, repeats, and I can tell them what to expect in races. I've trained many different ways using speed, hills, endurance and long distance running over the years. And I can share with them what has worked and what I've seen to help them get better in running.

"They know I love the sport and know I have a passion for it. Kids recognize that and can feel that."

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