Sep. 11—Plum's Connor Pivirotto and Riverview's Christopher Barnes were next to each other down the final straightaway to the finish line in the boys varsity race at the Gateway Invitational cross country meet Sept. 3 at Boyce Park.
Barnes edged Pivirotto by less than a second for fourth place overall.
Pivirotto said the event, with many of the area's top runners in action, was a good measuring stick for where he, as well as everyone on both the Mustangs boys and girls teams, stood as they headed into the meat of the 2022 race schedule.
"The course at Boyce Park is really tough, and it really set the tone," said Pivirotto, who along with fellow senior Nate Mienke and junior Gabriel Powell, form the nucleus for what he hopes is an improved Plum boys team this fall.
The team, which also features the return of junior Aiden Steinagle and the varsity debut of freshman Julius Mendenhall, placed 21st at WPIALs last year.
"It just showed the returning runners and those new to the team what the season can be like," said Pivirotto, who ran to a time of 18 minutes, 53.15 seconds at the Gateway Invite. "It was nice to get out there on the course and compete after all the hard work we all put in over the summer and in preseason workouts."
Pivirotto said the Plum boys have the potential to break into the top 20 at WPIALs. Mienke was not too far behind Pivirotto at the Gateway Invite and placed seventh (19:04.28), while Powell was 16th in 19:55.78.
"We got fourth out of nine teams (at the Gateway Invite), and we were very close to the third-place team (Kiski Area)," said Pivirotto, who has garnered a measure of college attention from schools at the Division I, II and II levels.
"We will see a lot of these teams again at the Kiski Invitational (Friday at Northmoreland Park) and the section championship meet (Oct. 5 at Northmoreland Park). And with Nate, Gabe and myself getting a medal, that was pretty satisfying."
Plum coach Stephanie Kennedy said the boys team has the potential to do big things.
"We have a decent amount of depth," she said.
"And if you look down to our 10th to 12th runners, it's a really small gap between them. Our first four or five are pretty set, but after that, the places go pretty much back and forth. That is such a good sign that they are showing a lot of growth from top to bottom."
The Plum boys and girls teams competed in varsity and junior varsity races Saturday at the annual Red, White & Blue Invitational at White Oak Park.
The Plum girls have a fairly new look after some changes from last season, including the graduation of two of the top three runners — Ashley Persia and Sydney Anderson — from the squad which ran at the WPIAL championships.
Senior Emily Berrott — also a key member of the Mustangs girls soccer team — led Plum with a 21st-place finish at the Gateway Invitational.
"She's very invested in soccer, but she has really given great effort in her cross country running," Kennedy said.
"Her training often is different than the rest of the team. We always are looking to find that happy medium of getting training but not overworking her between school, soccer and other activities. She has a lot on her plate. But she's doing really well. There are times when she won't be at a race. ... But we love every opportunity she has to race for us."
Kennedy also has seen great improvement in the racing of freshman Natalie Wagner, who took 26th at the Gateway Invite.
"She came to us from the lacrosse team, and we have a couple of others (sophomore Isabella Difrancesca and junior Allison Venanzi) who have joined who also play lacrosse," Kennedy said. "They'll still do that in the spring, but it's nice to have them for cross country. They are all running really well."
Kennedy is expected to be the No. 2 runner on the girls varsity behind Berrott.
"Natalie is off to a great start," Kennedy said. "She just has that natural ability and stride that can really help her be successful."
Senior Audrey Bell and sophomore Grace Roedersheimer both are back after competing in the top seven for Plum at last year's WPIAL championships.
Kennedy said she also likes what she has seen in terms of improvement from junior Kaitlin Mascilli.
"She is really starting to reap the benefits of hard work the past three years," Kennedy said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .