Loaded lineup has Pine-Richland cross country team thinking big

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Saturday, September 4, 2021 | 11:01 AM


The Pine-Richland girls cross country team is hoping to set a gold standard this fall.

With the top eight runners returning from a team that finished as the WPIAL runner-up in Class 3A a season ago, the Rams aspire to win the program’s first WPIAL and PIAA titles.

“All of our top girls returning have improved,” Pine-Richland coach Mark Hunkele said. “They all had great indoor and outdoor track seasons. All of their track times came down. They’ve trained smart during the summer, and we’re really increasing the intensity of our workouts now that we’re close to the season.

“Everyone is running strong. In the test races we did in the summer, the top girls all improved their times. Everyone is healthy and stronger. We feel we’re a lot better team than we were last year, and our goal is to win the WPIAL and state titles.”

In a normal year, the Pine-Richland girls would’ve qualified for states for placing second, but with covid-19 restrictions limiting the field, only district winners advanced. The Rams finished behind North Allegheny. The two teams are section rivals and will likely meet on multiple occasions.

Meredith Price and Angelina Hunkele qualified for states as individuals. Price placed at the WPIAL meet to earn a second consecutive trip to states, where she finished 10th. Angelina Hunkele got the final qualifying spot to make it as a freshman.

Angelina’s older sister Elizabeth Hunkele and Audrey DeKunder had top 30 runs at WPIALs.

Natalie McLean, who was injured for the majority of last season, placed 31st.

Brianna Franchak, Stella Fannie and Catherine London are also back for the Rams and have shown improvement.

“We truly have many No. 1 runners on our team,” Coach Hunkele said. “We believe the girls will be really close together on times and will push each other.”

The Pine-Richland boys have medal desires of their own after a fifth-place finish at WPIALs in 2020.

Victor Williams, a PIAA qualifier and the top runner on the team, graduated, but the Rams return three of their top eight runners in seniors Chris Fisher and Nick Labuda and sophomore Kevin McLoughlin.

McLoughlin was the second-highest finishing freshman at WPIALs last year, coming home in 39th.

“We had a deep team last year, so even though we graduated five seniors in our top eight, we should be strong again,” Coach Hunkele said.

“Chris Fisher and Nick Labuda are our senior leaders and have been strong runners all throughout high school. They are both running great this season. Kevin was one of the top two freshmen pretty much all last season at all the big meets.”

Alex Urling and Nick King, who are juniors, as well as senior Colby Ohlund are returners that have shown improvement, and there are several other returners as well as some incoming freshman who will vie for the remaining varsity spots.

Coach Hunkele credited his group with being very supportive of one another, which has created a hard-working atmosphere at practices, with the overall goal of individual improvement.

“We have 53 on the roster total with boys and girls varsity and JV and they have a great team environment,” Coach Hunkele said. “They all encourage each other no matter where they are on the team. They are very easy to coach and a great group to be around.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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