Sep. 11—Kefimba Cisse finished second to the now-graduate Brady Sundin in Gateway cross country races last year.
The junior, who placed 67th at the WPIAL Class 3A championships in 2021, now is the top runner on a Gators boys team that includes a number of returning competitors who still possess a great deal of youth and also potential, veteran coach Tom LaBuff said.
Cisse fronted the Gateway contingent in a big way Sept. 3 on the Gators' home course at Boyce Park with a first-place finish at the annual Gateway Invitational.
He was the only boys runner to break 18 minutes on the challenging course, finishing with a time of 17:52.53.
"Clearly, I was happy with him winning," LaBuff said.
"The competition was less deep than it has been in year's past, but he still ran a time that would've won last year, as well, and he controlled the race from the beginning to the end.
"Kefimba put in a really good summer, and did a nice job with the early-season workout type things and the scrimmage at Greensburg Salem. The race (at Boyce) was a really good indication of where he was at that point and what he still can work on as we get into these bigger races."
Cisse also met the challenge last Wednesday as the top boys runner at a tri-meet with Latrobe at Altoona. He completed the course in a time of 17:41.
"He's taking a step up from where he's been," LaBuff said. "He's still in that process of learning how to run. He's a lot more confident. Last year, hills were a major obstacle. He called them "frenemies." I told him that he needs to make hills his friend, and he's taking that seriously."
Cisse, along with his teammates on the boys side, as well as the girls team, fronted by the trio of sophomore Grace Byrne, freshman Gianna Laurenti and sophomore Madison Lu, were to test their progress Saturday at the Red, White and Blue Invitational at White Oak Park.
The Gateway teams are scheduled to be back in action for a tri-meet at 4 p.m. Thursday against Elizabeth Forward and Penn-Trafford at Penn-Trafford's Bushy Run Fields course.
Gateway finished 23rd in the boys team standings at
WPIALs last year, and five other runners who competed there — senior Gavin Dorosiev; junior Caleb Bell; and sophomores Kairell McCoy, Nathan Eichenmiller and Darren Johnson — are back.
Johnson and McCoy were 30th and 31st, respectively, at the Gateway Invite.
"They're working really hard and have made a lot of
progress since last year," LaBuff said.
"With how they ran (at the Gateway Invite), I would say they are still feeling their way along. They are still looking to gain some more confidence in varsity competition and in a big meets. I am just really pleased with their work ethic and willingness to learn and get better and faster."
Byrne is the top returning runner from the Gateway girls' 25th-place finish at WPIALs last year.
LaBuff said she has also made great strides coming into this season, but she had been slowed, he said, by a case of covid. She didn't run at the Gateway Invitational but returned for the tri-meet with Altoona and Latrobe.
"She got back to practice, but she missed about 10 days," LaBuff said. "She was really tired. That was the main thing. But with her at full speed, I expect her to really make an impact."
Laurenti, in her varsity race debut at the Gateway Invitational, led the way in 18th overall with a time of 26:36.
"She is ahead of where Grace was at this point last year," LaBuff said. "She's learning to run 5K after only running 3K in middle school. She is gaining a lot of confidence. She had a breakthrough workout (last week)."
Sophomore Madison Lu followed six spots behind in 24th.
"Madison is so much improved from where she was in the spring (track season)," LaBuff said.
"They're young kids. They're learning. Like the boys, they're gaining confidence."
Sophomore Elaiyah Daniels is back after running at WPIALs last year, and sophomore Zylan Sims and freshman Amaya Koon competed for the Gators at the Gateway Invitational.
"They're all making progress, but with some of them, there still is a ways to go," LaBuff said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .