Locals Labuff and Slusser Capture
23rd Annual Monroeville Classic 10K

BY DON SLUSSER, CO-DIRECTOR

MONROEVILLE, PA--The 10K edition of the 23rd annual Monroeville Classic was greeted with cool, but dry, conditions on the morning of Sunday, April 21, 2002. A significant percentage of the field was utilizing either the Monroeville 10K or 5K race as a final test prior to the May 5 running of the Pittsburgh Marathon. Indeed, with the one-hour gap between starting times, many intended to double in the 5K. A strong field toed the starting line, including five of the eight top finishers from 2001. The most notable were three-time 10K champion, Jim Hommes, four-time 5K winner, John Brockenbrough, and newcomer Jesse LaBuff, a Gateway H.S. graduate, who also distinguished himself at Abilene Christian University in track and cross-country.

At the starter's pistol, LaBuff, 23, immediately set a punishing early pace. Only Masters runner Brockenbrough dared to match strides with the leader. The chase group included 1997-99 three-peat winner Hommes, Dave Wilt (2001 runner-up), and Allan Brown (5th in 2001), all of whom ran a more controlled opening mile. All of the key contenders planned to double one hour later in the 5K (with Pittsburgh Marathon preparation as a central focus). This backdrop added another layer of complexity to each competitor's individual strategy in the 10K.

The gradual climb on Business Route 22 forced Brockenbrough to give ground, unable to match the younger LaBuff's hard pace. Hommes' more prudent start enabled him to begin closing the distance between himself and the leader during this same stretch. He narrowed the gap to approximately one hundred meters as both runners climbed the challenging hill to Mosside Blvd.; however, with two miles remaining it became apparent that LaBuff's early gamble had succeeded. The final two miles are conducive to maintaining a lead, as the course is either level or a gentle downgrade all the way to the Monroeville Mall finish line. LaBuff held roughly the same 100 meter margin as he reached the finish, winning his first Classic laurels while denying Hommes a fourth Classic crown. LaBuff's overall victory was the first ever by a Monroeville resident. Tammy Slusser has garnered six such 10K victories in the women's division.

Brockenbrough followed Hommes by 1:01 to claim third, and Wilt outdistanced Allan Brown, as they claimed the fourth and fifth spots, respectively. Masters runner Carl Hubel, 45, started slowly but eventually passed numerous tiring competitors, including Dan Holland in the final stretch, as he worked his way up to sixth overall. Doug Basinsky, 25, claimed eighth place. Of the top returning runners from 2001, all ran faster in 2002 (Brown 1:45 faster, and Basinsky 1:14 quicker), but only Brown equaled his place from last year.

With Brockenbrough and Hubel earning overall awards, the Masters division was claimed by Joe Como, 48, in 36:58, garnering a 10th place overall finish. Lee Zelkowitz and Mark Studnicki duplicated their 2001 finish order for the next two Masters spots, Zelkowitz separated himself from Studnicki by 1:11.

LaBuff, who recently began training with Hommes, Brockenbrough, Slusser, Como, and the rest of the "Tuesday Night Track Team," is planning to run the 18th edition of the Pittsburgh Marathon, his third attempt at the marathon distance.

Tammy Slusser won the women's 10K division with a time of 37:45, establishing a record-shattering margin of 8:40 over runner-up Ines Gibson, 34. Slusser spent the past three Classics as the 10K runner-up racing against the likes of Mindy Sawtelle, who set the course record of 35:31, and last year's champion, Mary Alico, whose winning time was 36:05. Unfortunately, neither was able to participate in the 2002 edition of the Classic, thereby diminishing the competitiveness of the women's race. Slusser finished 13th overall and joined Jesse LaBuff in claiming the respective Monroeville's Fastest Runner awards for the 10K. LaBuff replaced race co-director, Don Slusser, 50, as recipient of the local honor. Don Slusser has earned ten such laurels and is the only runner to have run all 23 editions of the Classic. His 19th place overall finish was sufficient to claim the Veterans (50+) title by 2:00.

By the 9:30 a.m. scheduled 5K start, nearly all of the 10K starters had had their times recorded as they crossed the Champion Chip mats at the finish. Suddenly, the weather turned wet just as the 5K runners were preparing their final stretches and strides (in the case of those doubling--grabbing some fluids and a light snack as fortification for the next challenge!). Thankfully the rain was light, but with temperatures only in the high forties, this was less than ideal for the doublers whose muscles had already been tested. As with last year's event, the 5K was a confrontation between a handful of talented, but tired, doublers (including LaBuff, Hommes, Brockenbrough, Wilt, Brown, and Hubel), and a few fresh 5K specialists, notably defending champion Bill Maloney, 39, plus the relatively unknown Mark Prezioso, 19, of Canonsburg.

As expected, those doubling did not (or perhaps could not) go out fast. Unexpectedly, Prezioso did set an early blistering pace, which quickly opened a substantial gap on the field. Certainly those trailing could only guess if these tactics were those of a talented runner, or those of foolish youthful excitement. By the race's mid-point, Prezioso's pursuers had to come to the unfortunate conclusion, "This guy is for real." Those doubling shook off the early muscle tightness and steadily improved their respective places as the race progressed. Prezioso's time of 16:26 provided him with an 18 second victory margin over Hommes, who repeated his runner-up position. Amazingly, Hommes had run 5:25 pace over the more difficult 10K course, and then actually ran faster, 5:24 pace, over the 5K course. This time, LaBuff followed Hommes, as he claimed third place in 16:52.

Defending champion Maloney ran 17:00 for fourth, followed by Wilt nine seconds later. Masters men, Brockenbrough and Hubel, both doublers, finished 7th and 9th, respectively. Mark Courtney, less than a week after running the Boston Marathon, claimed the third Masters award and 13th place overall.

Tammy Slusser completed the women's double successfully, her 19:03 clocking easily outdistancing 18-year-old Jessica Bisnett's time of 23:24. Bisnett's Saint Vincent College teammate, Angela Heinzman, 18, earned the third spot with her 23:39 time. Diane Doonan, 28, and Jean Myers, 29, followed with times of 23:58 and 24:22, respectively. Kova Zvzanamatous, 44, ran 25:06 to claim the top female Masters award. Slusser and LaBuff again prevailed in the Monroeville's Fastest Runner categories for the 5K.

Brockenbrough, Hubel, and LaBuff topped the age-graded results in the 10K; whereas Hubel, Brockenbrough, and Prezioso led the way in the 5K's age-graded results. Age-graded times are calculated based on world class standards by age and gender, and provide a means of normalizing performances across these criteria so that meaningful comparisons are possible. Additional information regarding age-graded scoring is available on the Runner's High Web site, www.runhigh.com.

More than two hundred finishers were recorded in the 10K and 5K events combined. Many thanks go to Race co-director Marshall Bond, whose tireless efforts insured a very well run event. Thanks also to the Rotary Club of Monroeville, the Monroeville Mall, and the Municipality of Monroeville, all of which have been continuously involved with the Classic since its inception in 1980.

As perspective on how long ago the year 1980 was:

· Bill Rodgers won his 4th and final Boston Marathon;
· Three U.S. men ran 2:10 in the Marathon Trials in Buffalo (yes, 2:10 in the same race, believe it or not!) to qualify for the Moscow Olympics, only to have the U.S. boycott the Games because of Russia's invasion of Afghanistan (Editor's Note: Co-Director Slusser ran 2:17 and didn't crack the top 30--today that would place a runner in the top 10 or better, or would have placed 4th in the 2002 Pittsburgh Marathon amidst the Kenyans);
· Another four years would pass before Joan Benoit's stunning victory in the first Olympic Marathon for women at the Los Angeles Games;
· Jesse LaBuff, this year's 10K champion, was probably embarking upon his first tentative steps as a toddler.

Also, sincerest appreciation is extended to our continuing major sponsors: Adelphia and Allegheny Energy. Once again, their support was essential in assuring that the annual Monroeville races continued to be Classic in every respect!

Next year, Easter is relatively late (April 20), so the Classic may shift to a date a couple weeks after the Pittsburgh Marathon. Please pencil in Sunday, May 18, 2003 on your advance calendar as the tentative date for the 24th annual Monroeville Classic, and plan on returning with a friend or two!

Pittsburgh Marathon Results for Most of Key "Players" Noted Above:

Hommes #11 2:32:31
LaBuff #17 2:39:45
Wilt #19 2:41:05
Brown #29 2:46:59
Brockenbrough #30 2:47:24
Basinski #42 2:52:31
Tammy Slusser #10W 2:53:25
Como #52 2:54:27
Don Slusser #54 2:55:28

Major sponsors

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