There's no other way to look at it. Thursday's Tri-State Track Coaches Association (TSTCA) championship meet is a dress rehearsal for next week's WPIAL title races and berths in the PIAA finals.
Many of last year's heaviest hitters will be on the line tomorrow when things get rolling at 1 p.m. at Roadman Park on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania. The PSAC school also will be the host of the District 7 races on October 24 for the second consecutive year.
According to TSTCA officials, the race order has been adjusted for Thursday's event, with the AAA boys' and girls' races scheduled first followed by the lone junior varsity race of the afternoon. After the presentation of the AAA awards, the combined A-AA boys' and girls' races will take the course. Officials said the change in race order was made to avoid conflicts for some A-AA teams with PSAT testing.
Mount Lebanon's Patrick Anderson, PTXC's No. 1 runner, will be out to defend his TSTCA title and course record. The North Carolina commit ran 16:08.55 to win this meet a year ago and opened his 2019 season with a course record 15:54.4 in the Marty Uher Invitational. His most recent outing at The Legends Meet in Ohio produced a personal-best and course-record time of 15:09.3.
Giving chase to Anderson will be Fox Chapel Area's Christian Fitch, who recently committed to Temple and was third last year, and Mars Area's Zachary Leachman, who was fifth in 2018. Add in North Allegheny point man Dan McGoey, and you have Nos. 4-6 in the current statewide rankings.
North Allegheny defeated Mount Lebanon by 21 points a year ago. Also in the mix should be Butler, which topped the Tigers in a dual meet earlier this season, and the team battle in Class AAA boys should get spectators excited from the beginning.
In the girls' AAA race, the team battle starts with defending state champs North Allegheny. When at full strength, the Tigers have bested all challengers and appear to have the numbers again, with senior Hannah Lindgren as the top returnee as the 2018 runner-up at Tri-States.
Bethel Park junior Emily Carter, Moon Area sophomore Mia Cochran and Lindgren battled at the PIAA Foundation meet and are Nos. 5, 6 and 9 in the most recent PTXC rankings. This race could be the best one of the afternoon.
Last year's A-AA combined race winners are not entered this week, but Brownsville Area's Gionna Quarzo and Quaker Valley's Daniel Ford will be ready for this 5K challenge as both will look to return to Hershey with strong performances in the WPIAL meet.
Following Ford a year ago in the AA results were six other non-seniors. The entire half-dozen is entered, led by Blackhawk's Jack Aulbach, New Castle's Anthony Litrenta and Ringgold's Lucas Pajak. New Castle and Ringgold are the only teams projected to finish with less than 100 points in PTXC's Virtual Meet results, with Jeff Shaftic's Red Hurricane squad ranked third statewide in AA.
In Class A, Corinn Brewer of Greensburg Central Catholic kicked off her season in mid-September after a lengthy 2019 outdoor track season. The class winner a year ago, the sophomore has two invitational wins to her credit this fall, while Shenango's Carmen Medvit has three big-meet wins this season after a third a year ago this week. Also look for last year's A runner-up, North Catholic's Alaina Hicks, to push the pace. Saint Joseph's Catholic and North Catholic are a pair of the state's top 1A teams that will battle it out for top team honors in the classification on Thursday.