South/East/West/North Xtra: Red, White & Blue meet a measuring stick
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The Red, White & Blue Classic cross country meet is celebrating its 10th year this Saturday at Schenley Park and, as always, it will be a fast and mixed-up competition.
"You don't know the teams that have picked up a good freshman who may have just moved into their district," said Rich Wright, Baldwin High School's head coach who serves as the meet coordinator.
With 60 boys and girls teams typically entering, the Red, White & Blue Classic has become the region's starting point for the strategy game of cross country.
For example, Highlanders' sophomore Jake Phillips may be an unexpected runner in veteran teams' paths. By winning the JV race at the Sept. 1 Gateway Invitational, Phillips earned his way onto Baldwin's varsity squad. Now, boys' teams will face a Baldwin pack including Phillips and veterans Christian Labash and George Kelly. Labash and Kelly ran on Baldwin's winning varsity squad at the Gateway Invitational.
The girls' race will also be a mix of both seasoned and unexpected competition.
"This is the biggest girls' team we've ever had," said Wright.
He said newcomer Stephanie Bott is in her first year of running, but finished as Baldwin's fifth runner at the Gateway Invitational. The Baldwin girls finished ninth (of 15 teams) at Gateway.
The North Hills girls' team is heading to the Red, White & Blue meet and running at least five members of its 2011 WPIAL champion team.
"Obviously, Shannon and Mary Malone are going to be favorites," said Indians coach Doug Sundo. "But to round out my top five, there's Caitlin Janeda, Clare Brown and Sabrina Palmieri."
Shannon and Mary Malone are the younger sisters of the now-graduated Margo Malone, who dominated many cross country and track events for North Hills.
But despite North Hills' veteran status, Sundo also sees the Red, White & Blue meet as a strategizing opportunity.
"I use it as a barometer to see where we stack up against the other teams," he said. "I'm really looking to see who's going to step up to the plate, and I'm going to use the meet for my own purpose -- to see where we're at depth-wise."
The Central Catholic team is also coming off of a state qualifying-year, but will be competing for the first time this season on Saturday.
"I think we get more experience learning about the other teams than we get learning about ourselves because it's usually our first race," said Vikings coach Tim McVeagh. "You really never know too much about what happens with your first race. You're rusty. Sometimes you forget how to race, so you probably don't run as smart as if you had run a couple of races already.
"So, the Red White & Blue meet doesn't really tell us about ourselves as much as other teams."
Nonetheless, the Vikings are adding to the mix of veterans and newcomers. Andy Haky will be returning for Central Catholic, alongside Jeff Van Kooten and Pat Curley. But McVeagh felt that the addition of John McCool to his varsity squad could wake up the competition.
"I think he's going to help us surprise some people," said McVeagh. "Not a surprise to us, though."
Overall, Saturday's Red, White & Blue Classic will be the first chance most teams get to size up the competition. Additionally, there are two final factors that will make the Red, White & Blue Classic a great shakeup.
One factor is that teams can run groups of 10 in the meet, giving coaches options in the early season. Each team is scored using its best seven results.
The other factor is that this year's 10th anniversary celebration includes an all-freshman race. That has never been done before at the Red, White & Blue meet.
If teams choose to drop freshmen from their varsity squads in order to populate a freshman squad, their results could change drastically.
"Younger girls help their teams earlier in their running careers," said McVeagh.
He was noting that because girls often mature earlier than boys, the girls are often able to progress further as freshmen.
"The Red, White & Blue meet gives you an idea of where you're at and where you're not at," Wright said. "I think it's a great kickoff race."
The starting line
• What: Red, White & Blue Classic.
• When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
• Where: Schenley Park.
• Skinny: It's the first large multi-school meet of the cross country season.
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am