Penn Hills runners gain experience at WPIAL meet

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Thursday, October 31, 2019 | 9:11 PM


With a young, inexperienced and shorthanded lineup, the Penn Hills boys cross country team wrapped up its season at the WPIAL Class AAA championships Oct. 24 at Cal (Pa.).

Junior Hunter Shields and freshman Austin Stuchul finished 185th and 186th in 20:35 and 20:36, respectively, to lead the Indians.

The Indians had only four runners available; junior Luke Hansen finished 201st in 21:29, and junior Josh Gerken was 217th in 23:51.

Seniors Devonte Kelly and Nate Stefan were injured. Kelly suffered a sprained ankle in the week leading up to the meet, and Stefan is recovering from a stress fracture. Senior Darien Mallory also didn’t run in the race.

“I was happy with the guys. They were steady all season. They worked really hard. Everybody on the team, except for Josh, ran cross country for the first time,” coach Lee Zelkowitz said.

“They were very inexperienced. They were starting from zero. It was a pleasant season when it comes to coaching. My goal was for them to improve and get better as the year moved along, and they all did that.”

The Indians were routinely led by Shields, who wrestles in the winter.

Shields paced the Indians at the Gateway Invitational; Red, White & Blue Classic; Kiski Invitational; and Tri-State meet.

Zelkowitz was pleased with how Stuchul performed during his freshman year.

At the beginning of the season, Stuchul (54th) finished behind Shields (50th) with a time of 21:58.70 at the Gateway Invitational. Stuchul (239th) finished with a time of 20:30.54 at the Red, White & Blue Classic.

Stuchul ran a 21:05.90 at the Kiski Invitational. In the final meet before the WPIAL championship, Stuchul ran a time of 20:41.15 at the Tri-State meet.

“He consistently was my third man. There would be times when he would be the best or second-best runner. He really continued to improve. He knocked a couple of seconds off his time,” Zelkowitz said.

Mallory was the third runner for the Indians. His best performance was at the Tri-State meet when he finished with a time of 20:04. Mallory finished with a time of 20:49 at the Kiski Invitational.

Zelkowitz will look to have Shields, Stuchul and Hansen return after their first year of running cross country.

The trio will be accompanied by Gerken, who’s the most experienced runner on the roster. Zelkowitz is hoping to have enough runners to have a girls team compete next year.

“With the guys coming back, they will have a year of experience, and they will comeback a lot stronger, and hopefully we can convince a couple other people to come out for the team,” Zelkowitz said.

“I really think they will make a big improvement after having that year of experience.”

Zelkowitz is eager to turn his attention to the indoor track and field season in the coming months.

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