Defending Champs Rounding Into Form

Fox Chapel pulled off an almost unheard-of feat last season when it finished second to Oakland Catholic in the WPIAL Class 3A girls cross country team finals, then came back to edge Manheim Township and the third-place Eagles at the state championships in Hershey.

This year’s Foxes might require a bit more help if it is to pull off a rare WPIAL repeat at the PIAA finals.

“The kids have worked hard and we’re having a hard time finding that fifth runner,” Fox Chapel coach Tom Moul said. “We have some good kids on the team and they’re good, but we don’t have a state championship-qualifying fifth runner like we did last year.”

Fox Chapel got its first look at its one potential weakness Sept. 8 in the Red, White and Blue Classic at the Schenley Oval. The Foxes top four runners finished with 35 points, which would have placed them only six points behind eventual champion North Allegheny, but the Tigers No. 5 Rachel Hockenberry came in 15th while Anna Folkerts crossed in 31st place as North Allegheny closed out a 44-66 edge in the first major event of the season.

That meet, however, was nearly a month ago and Fox Chapel is rounding into form as it prepares for the stretch run toward an appearance at the WPIAL’s new venue at California (Pa.) University.

“I think we’ve progressed pretty well and I’ve been pleased with the progression throughout the season,” Moul said. “We started in June and worked hard all summer, so we’re right where we need to be at this point.”

Though the Red, White and Blue Classic is an early litmus test and gives a barometer for improvement in the first major meet of the season, it’s not necessarily a determining factor for a team to win a WPIAL title. In 2017, Fox Chapel won the event and rolled over second-place Oakland Catholic by 29 points, yet in the WPIAL finals it was the Eagles who came out on top, 43-56.

It’s also why most of the top schools use the day for a yardstick instead of a prophecy.

“We have a training program that we use. We’re still in the hard part of the season as pertaining to the workouts we do and we’ll start to back off in another week or so for speed,” Moul said. “It’s a foundation meet and we just see things that we need to get better at.”

It’s not just the team that is in the thick of a WPIAL title chase. Senior Serena Seeger finished second and junior Grace Sisson sixth at the Red, White and Blue and both are poised to make a run at defending champion Hannah Schupansky of Oakland Catholic for the individual title.

“Serena and Grace have just been outstanding,” Moul said. “Serena wouldn’t be doing what she’s doing without having Grace kind of pushing her and vice versa, for sure.”