Junior embraces competition, camaraderie of cross country

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Sunday, October 2, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Sawyer Kinney can usually see the people he races against are feeling what he is feeling. After crossing the finish line, Kinney sees, and emphasizes with, the suffering.

The Penn Hills junior cross country runner feels those moments are what build camaraderie in the sport.

“I love cross country and want to take it as far as my body and brain will take me,” Kinney said. “It makes me happy, the amount of straight up pain you feel during a race and the opportunity to bond with people. When you are at the finish line, you can look over and see someone who finished two minutes before or two minutes after suffering the same things.”

Kinney has shown improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons. At the A.J. Everhart Uniontown Invitational Sept. 24, Kinney was Penn Hills’ top finisher, placing 22nd in the event with a time of 18 minutes, 31 seconds.

Austin Stuchul was the Indians’ second-best finisher, placing 34th with a time of 20:57.

Penn Hills coach Lee Zelkowitz has been most impressed with Kinney’s confidence. At the Uniontown event, Zelkowitz said Kinney was passed by a few runners in the last stretch of the race.

“We want him to improve his confidence,” Zelkowitz said. “My whole goal this year was to help him know he belongs with the top guys. He’s competitive and is working toward being with the top 10 runners.”

Kinney said he is working on finishing races strong.

“A lot of the courses I’m running for cross country, I’ve only run once or twice,” Kinney said. “I’m starting to learn when I can pass people. I need to work on sprinting toward the end.”

Kinney didn’t start running with designs on joining the cross country team. He originally started running with his dad when he was 8 or 9. What kept Kinney involved was seeking incremental improvement. The progress was apparent throughout the time he spent running.

“I feel when I run, I could see improvement,” Kinney said. “I would go out and run a mile and see I did 10 minutes, then the next year I would be at eight minutes. I could see the achievement.”

Outside of the school team, Kinney has enjoyed running at Frick Park. Kinney also enjoys competing in the Run Around the Square 5K at Regent Square. He has won his age division in the event twice.

Zelkowitz said Kinney’s previous experience helped him adjust to cross country.

“He’s really been picking things up quickly,” Zelkowitz said.

While Kinney would like to possibly run in college, he is planning to stick with the sport in some fashion throughout life. He’s never done a half-marathon or marathon but would like to try one in the future.

Meeting other people who participate in the sport is a big draw.

“I like the competition,” Kinney said. “But it’s a more friendly competition. I like the camaraderie of the team and trying to make myself, my coaches and my teammates proud.”

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