Coach optimistic in defending women’s cross country title, hopeful for men’s


Photo by Robert Berger

Senior Katie Guarnaccia leads the pack during the 2016 Carnegie Mellon University Invitational. Guarnaccia returns to the cross country and track and field teams after taking the 2017-2018 school year off.

Written By Dara Collins, Co-Sports Editor

The women’s cross country team looks to defend its River States Conference (RSC) title while the men’s team eyes up a conference title of its own.

“This is the best preseason we’ve ever had,” head coach Kelly Parsley said. “I probably say that every year, but this is the best team I’ve ever had, this is the best everyone’s been, this is the best everyone’s looked, so the expectations are really high and I’m excited.”

The depth of the 2017 women’s squad allowed them to reign atop the RSC. Seniors Taylor Celich and Kara Rohlf and sophomore Alyssa Boyd are among the decorated returning runners to the women’s squad.

Anna Shields highlights the women’s roster as she prepares for her final season of cross country. After accumulating multiple conference and national accolades among others, Shields aims to add a first place victory at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Meet to her resume.

All she needs is a little confidence.

“[Coach Parsley] tells me often, and we were talking about it today that I need to have more confidence in myself for cross country like I have confidence in myself for track,” Shields said.

New faces to the women’s team include New Brighton graduate Alyssa Campbell, an elite runner.

“Alyssa Campbell is one of the best runners in the state coming in so she’s very capable of winning big invitationals and going for that Freshman of the Year with the conference,” Shields said.

Sophomore Reba Bartram is no stranger to the Pioneers, but the track athlete is now adapting to a different course.

“She’s going to surprise some people, because I think she’s going to be incredible,” Shields said.

Senior Katie Guarnaccia also returns after a year hiatus. The national qualifying athlete paused her collegiate running career for personal reasons but looks forward to being a part of the team again.

“I do [regret leaving] a little bit, because I know I could be finished with school at this point if I would have continued, but I also know that I needed that time off at that point,” Guarnaccia said. “I also wish I wouldn’t have stopped running so that I could have had a more successful finishing season of cross country and track, because now I’m not as fast I was before.”

Shields has high hopes for the season.

“It could be a really special team this year, and I don’t even think the girls realize what we can do,” Shields said. “I think once we start racing and start showing some results, people are going to be saying, ‘wow Point Park could be a factor at nationals.’ I feel very confident saying that.”

As for the men, the roster boasts 30 runners this season.

All-conference runners Xavier Stephens and Desmond Marrow return for the 2018 season alongside seniors Connor Wright and Bradley Calleja, junior Eric Torres and sophomore Dylan Allen.

Newcomers include a trio of Butler High School graduates who may have the ability to break in to the top seven: Doug Kostelansky, Camden Seybert and Robert Hays.

After losing by a only small margin last season, Parsley expects the men to return to the conference meet at their best.

“We didn’t have our best day at that meet, so I think we’re looking for some revenge, but I think with all the returners we have and all the new people we have, we’re going to be pretty good,” Parsley said.

The Pioneers also added an assistant coach to the crew prior to the start of the season. Jim Spisak brings a professional perspective of running to the team. The Duquesne alum ran racked up numerous honors during his career, placed at USA Track and Field championships and qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon.

“Despite being so good, he puts himself on the level of everyone on the team and he talks to everyone and respects everyone on the team and puts as much effort into everyone who wants to improve,” Shields said. “I really appreciate that about Jim.”

The Pioneers set the pace for the rest of the season with a strong showing at the Ohio Christian University Trailblazer Invitation last Friday. 11 women and ten men individually placed in their respective Top 25.

The men’s and women’s cross country teams will open regular season on Sept. 8, at the University of Akron Tommy Evans Invitational (Ohio). The Pioneers will compete in Pittsburgh once this season at the Carnegie Mellon University Invitational on Oct. 6.

The RSC Championship meet is currently dated for Nov. 3, and the NAIA National Championship Meet is slated nearly two weeks later on Nov. 16 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.