Previous editions of the Red, White & Blue Classic have generated some headline-worthy performances, and this year's 18th annual season opener for western PA teams almost certainly will produce eye-catching times and efforts.
What's different already about this weekend's meet is nobody has to wait until the starter's gun rings out for the first time for headlines to be made. Take a look at what's known days away:
A new race site
Two days of races
A meeting of PA's top girls' AAA runners from 2019
The quest for a PIAA team three-peat
Add in the first XC race ever for Melissa Riggins, one of the most successful middle-distance runners in WPIAL (and PIAA) history, and there will be a lot of excitement packed into a full schedule Friday and Saturday for the teams -- sorry, no spectators -- headed to White Oak Park.
For the first time in its history, Red, White & Blue will not be run in Schenley Park in the city of Pittsburgh. Restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 forced meet director Rich Wright to find another home in one of Allegheny County's parks southeast of the city.
Course records will go to the fastest runners as new layouts have been designed in the park, which is home to Serra Catholic's XC teams.
Other changes for this year include no teams from outside the Keystone state. A loaded girls AAA race would have been bursting at the seams with talented runners had Morgantown's Lea Hatcher and Irene Riggs been allowed to cross the Mason-Dixon line for this year's meet and help push the pace at the front and finish in the top 5 as they did last September.
Also because of the global pandemic, the class races will be split over two days, with the Class A events set for Friday and the AA and AAA schedule set for Saturday. Meet officials will follow a 100-runner pod limit on both days, with Friday's A boys race set for 5 p.m. and the girls race to follow an hour later.
Saturday's schedule starts at 8 a.m. with the first wave of runners in Class AA, with the top 7 for each of the AA squads set to race after the opening waves. The AAA events will get started at 2 p.m., with races every 45 minutes and the top 7 lineups scheduled to run with the second groupings. With no course previews being allowed, the action might start slowly but is certain to heat up based on the talent set to compete.
In Class A, the top three girls teams per the Preseason PA MileSplit 50 rankings will be at RWB, but only the top two finishers at Hershey last November will go face to face. Saint Joseph's Catholic Academy and Marion Center Area will line up in Class A Friday night, while Wilmington Area and last fall's state runner-up Grace Mason will move up to face the AAA powers on Saturday.
In the boys race Friday, 2019 breakthrough and PIAA runner-up Riverview is the class of the field and listed No. 2 in the preseason rankings. The Raiders return senior state medalists Mason Ochs and Gideon Deasy from the team that finished 19 points behind WPIAL rival Winchester Thurston at Hershey.
On Saturday, much of the attention will be on the AAA races, both girls and boys. A trio of PennTrackXC ranked teams will toe the line in the fastest of the girls races, while a pair of WPIAL section rivals are ranked and ready to battle in the boys hot heat.
A year ago, Bethel Park's Emily Carter beat Hatcher and Moon Area's Mia Cochran to the line as the top 3 all broke 18:00 at Schenley Park. Cochran and Carter would square off three additional times in the 2019 XC season, with Cochran winning all three and the PIAA title over Carter in the process.
Cochran also qualified for the Foot Locker national final by grabbing the 10th and last regional berth in New York City. However, a nagging hip injury would end her season at the Northeast Regional, and Saturday's race at White Oak Park will be the first big meet since for the Moon Area junior.
Top-ranked North Allegheny had a pair of finishers in last year's RWB AAA girls top 10, and senior Keeley Misutka returns to lead the Tigers toward a potential third consecutive state team title. Also back from last year's RWB top 10 is Gabrielle Kutchma of Seneca Valley, which is ranked third in the preseason rankings.
Saturday's AAA girls race definitely is loaded with intrigue and excitement. Great things are expected from Cochran, Carter and the NA girls, but what about Shady Side Academy's Riggins? Seemingly only a once-in-a-lifetime event could have stopped the now senior from registering her third consecutive sweep of the PIAA Class AA 800- and 1,600-meter titles, and the global pandemic did just that, wiping away any chance of four years of state doubles for the soccer and track standout.
With PRs of 2:08.86 and 4:48.79 from the 2019 outdoor track season, Riggins has the speed to contend in her first race over 5,000 meters. The only question is if her training for an outdoor track season that never happened and her current senior soccer campaign is enough to match stride for stride against arguably Pennsylvania's best returning harriers and Nos. 1-2 in the Preseason Rankings (Cochran and Carter). Shady Side is a Class A team in XC, but it will be competing in the AAA race.
In the AAA boys race, rivals North Allegheny and Butler finished third and fourth, respectively, in last year's state meet and are headed toward several battles this season. The first will be Saturday as they sit at Nos. 2 and 3 in the preseason rankings.
John Neff's Tigers lost multi-time state XC and track medalist Dan McGoey to graduation but return five from last year's team that ran at Parkview. Meanwhile, Butler is led by a talented trio of Sage Vavro, Skyler Vavro, and CJ Singleton, who all claimed individual medals in last year's state final.
Check out a video course tour below.