Gabriel Powell, Aiden Steinagle return to lead Plum runners

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Sunday, September 10, 2023 | 11:01 AM


When Connor Pivirotto and Nate Mienke, the top runners the last couple of years for the Plum boys cross country team, graduated following the 2022 season, a pair of rising seniors with experience — Gabriel Powell and Aiden Steinagle — were ready to take the reins of the team and lead the way.

Plum coach Stephanie Kennedy said both have been counted on for leadership on and off the race course and have their sights set on big things for a team blended with experience and others ready to take that next step at the varsity level.

“Gabriel and Aiden are filling the big shoes Connor and Nate left and also are stepping up to the plate,” Kennedy said.

“They both trained really well over the summer, and it’s carried over into the season.”

Powell showed his ability in a big way at last year’s WPIAL Class 3A championships where he placed 32nd overall in 17 minutes, 56 seconds. He stuck close to Mienke who crossed the finish line in 31st, less than a second faster.

Now, Powell’s expectations, Kennedy said, is to lower his WPIAL time, earn a better place in the final standings, and earn a trip to states in his final high school season.

Powell, Steinagle and the other members of the Mustangs boys and girls teams were to test their mettle Saturday at the annual Red, White & Blue Invitational at White Oak Park.

Plum kicked off its season on the challenging Gateway Boyce Park course at the Sept. 2 Gateway Invitational.

The 13-team event featured a mix of some of the top Class 3A, Class 2A and Class A teams in the WPIAL, including Fox Chapel, Baldwin, Franklin Regional, Riverview, Greensburg Central Catholic and Central Catholic.

Powell proved his worth in the boys race by taking second (17:31.04) to Fox Chapel junior Ethan Vaughan (17:09.97).

“Getting second at Gateway was a pretty exciting thing. We didn’t necessarily expect him to be that far up,” Kennedy said.

“But he really stepped up and went for it against some really strong runners. He showed a lot of confidence to put himself in the front and stay there.”

Steinagle, who placed 84th at WPIALs last year, finished 11th at the Gateway Invite in 18:12.62.

Kennedy said she likes the overall depth on the boys team which includes the returns of sophomore Julius Mendenhall and junior Cade Schimmer after 2022 seasons which concluded with runs at WPIALs.

Plum finished 11th in the Class 3A team standings last year, just 26 place points away from the top 10.

Freshmen Brady Sciullo and Ben Mueller, Kennedy said, already are providing strong performances for the boys team.

“Between our third through 10th guy, it is a process of continuing to lessen the gap between their finishing times and moving forward together,” she said.

“With the group that we have, I think we’ll see more success.”

The Plum girls team is expected to be youthful but talented at the top, Kennedy said, with freshmen Maura Smith and Olivia Beleno and sophomore Mayah Torres among the leaders.

Smith and Torres didn’t run at the Gateway Invite, but Baleno did and placed a team-best 27th in 24:51 in her varsity debut.

Smith and Torres, Kennedy said, were expected to run at Red, White & Blue.

Torres ran track and field as a freshman in the spring, but this is her first cross country season.

Sophomore Brooke Price returns after running at WPIALs last year. She is a two-sport athlete in the fall with volleyball as her main sport.

“With volleyball, Brooke will only be at a handful of races throughout the season,” Kennedy said.

Fellow sophomore Natalie Wagner is another young runner who made her WPIAL-championship debut last year. She also was one of six from Plum who ran the girls race at the Gateway Invitational.

“We have a lot of young girls coming up,” Kennedy said.

“We also have some new faces to the girls squad who are just now figuring out how to race and are getting their feet wet with cross country. This is the highest numbers on the girls side that we’ve had in a while. They all work really well together, so I am excited to see what they can do and how they can move up in the (WPIAL team standings) from past years.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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