Norwin XC finishes season at PIAA Championships

The Knights’ boys and girls teams had impressive showings in the postseason.


Brian Fleckenstein

Freshman Annie Czajkowski and junior Rosemary Gaydos pose under the finish line at the PIAA XC Championship course in Hershey, PA. Cjazkowski finished 57th in the AAA girls race.

Oliver Hinson, President - Head Editor

2021 was the first year Norwin was not represented at the PIAA Cross Country Championships since 2017. However, thanks to freshman Annie Czajkowski and several other talented runners, the program appears to be back on the right track.

Czajkowski ran a time of 20:45 in the AAA girls’ race at the State Championships, good for 57th place overall and fifth among freshmen. She was the first female state qualifier for the Knights since 2018.

“It was definitely an accomplishment for me,” Czajkowski said. “That’s what I wanted to do this whole year, and I just kept pushing myself because that was my dream.”

Czajkowski’s performance was one of many bright spots for Norwin during the 2022 season, one which saw measured improvements for both the boys and girls.

The boys finished 7th at the WPIAL Championships on Oct. 27, as sophomore Thomas Gaydos and seniors Andres Breauchy and Oliver Hinson finished in the top 50, with sophomore Enzo Jiancristoforo and junior Noah Wilson close behind. The boys’ 1-5 split (the difference in time between their first and fifth finisher) was 26 seconds, the best mark in the meet.

The girls earned 6th place, with Czajkowski finishing 21st overall and juniors Rosemary Gaydos and Audra Fedor finishing 32nd and 35th. Seniors Anna DeFazio and Emma Jiancristoforo finished in 60th and 61st place to close out the Knights’ pack. All of the team’s top 7 set personal records on the hilly Roadman Park course, and the team’s WPIAL placement was the highest since 2016.

“Our performance at WPIALs was good,” Jiancristoforo said. “That 3rd spot for the state meet was up for grabs. Although we did not end up getting it, all of us girls were proud of our accomplishments and how we performed individually.”

Senior Emma Jiancristoforo helps the girls’ team prepare for their last race of the season at the WPIAL Championships. The girls finished 6th in AAA, while the boys were 7th. (Lee Schaeffer)

In 2021, the girls were 11th at the WPIAL Championships, and the boys were 20th. Coach Brian Fleckenstein believes the improvements on both sides are due to summer training.

“Putting in the miles and working hard in the summer always tends to lead to a better season,” Fleckenstein said. “Everybody that logged miles this summer ran well during the season.”

On the boys’ side, a young core returns next year, as junior Noah Wilson is poised to lead the team, and sophomores Gaydos, Jiancristoforo, Mario Breauchy, and Luke Simpson will likely fill out the team’s top five. 

“We’re going to keep working hard,” Gaydos said. “We’re going to keep improving because of our returners from last year.”

The girls will also retain five of their top seven, losing only DeFazio and Jiancristoforo. Gaydos, Fedor, Czajkowski , freshman Elin Bash and sophomore Anna Rakvic will be key performers for the Knights, as well as Anna Dansak, who will likely be one of the best freshmen in Pennsylvania next year.

Sophomore Thomas Gaydos, pictured here during the AAA boys race at the WPIAL Championships, will be an integral part of the team next year. (Lee Schaeffer)

“I am so excited for the future of our girls team,” Fedor said. “I’ve never seen such a large group of girls willing to give everything they have each day for their teammates. I’m truly confident that we have the potential to reach team and individual goals that may have once seemed impossible.”

The WPIAL sends three girls’ teams and 15 individuals to the PIAA State Championships, as well as two boys’ teams and 10 individuals. Fleckenstein expects to see a few Norwin athletes, if not an entire team, qualify for the meet.

“I think, looking at what we return next year, the girls and boys both have legitimate shots at getting teams through,” Fleckenstein said. “If not, hopefully a few individuals… we had a few girls who were really close this year.”

One of the major factors helping the Knights succeed is their young talent, even below the high school level. Norwin’s middle school cross country teams are consistently among the strongest in the state on the boys’ and girls’ side; both handily won their races at the Westmoreland Area Athletic Directors Association Championships on Oct. 4. 

This young talent, in addition to the strong core returning for the 2023 season, could make Norwin one of the most dangerous teams in the WPIAL.

“The Norwin boys team could be a top 5 WPIAL AAA team in 2023,” said Karlon Nixon, a WPIAL cross country reporter and contributor for Pennsylvania Milesplit. “Norwin has an amazing coaching staff, a positive team atmosphere, and a goal-driven team which makes them a threat in any given cross-country meet. I believe [the girls’ team is also] going to turn a lot of heads in the next 2-3 seasons. The girls’ WPIAL AAA competition is hands down the best in the state of Pennsylvania, which is only going to make the girls’ team stronger each meet.”

Nixon said Czajkowski is “establishing herself as one of the top girls in the WPIAL,” and if he were to make power rankings for 2023 today, he would have the girls ranked 3rd in the WPIAL, and the boys would be in the top five.