Penn Hills runners making strides under returning coach

Sunday, September 17, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Being a longtime member of the cross country community made putting a schedule together late not too bad for Penn Hills coach Lee Zelkowitz.

Zelkowitz, who planned to step down after last season, came back to the job after Ryan Donnelly had to step down for personal reasons in early August. Zelkowitz was able to get Penn Hills in an early run at Bushy Run Park with Penn-Trafford and into the Red, White & Blue and Gateway invitationals.

“Cross country and track have great coaching communities,” Zelkowitz said. “There are a few that I’m not fond of, but track is a sport where we all try to help each other out. When I contacted people, they said no problem and they were happy to help us out. A few people teased me about being back, but there was no anxiety.”

Most recently, Penn Hills competed at the Gateway Invitational. Sawyer Kinney led the Indians by finishing in 23rd place with a time of 19 minutes, 32.18 seconds.

Kinney, a senior, said he had a difficult summer training. With cross country being a more solitary sport, he had a hard time finding the right direction to train with. Kinney got more into cross training this summer and spent more time in the weight room.

Kinney said he also competed in a few 5Ks during the summer and tried to get in a few runs per week.

“It’s all mental,” Kinney said. “Your body is capable of running fast for a long period of time. It’s all about dealing with the pain and your brain telling you to quit because of the pain. I did well when I have people to run with.”

Xavier Nicholas (48th), Avin Keller (64th) and Adam Rosemeyer (68th) also competed on the boys side.

Nevaeh Mosely led the girls’ team with a 23rd-place finish and a time of 24:17.10. Alonah Darwin-Jackson also finished 49th.

Zelkowitz has been happy with the early progress. Success in dual meets will be tough for Penn Hills, which only has four boys and three girls.

“Our numbers are low, but our kids have been working hard,” Zelkowitz said.

Penn Hills also competed at one of the more challenging early season events when the Indians ran at the Red White & Blue Invitational at White Oak Park. Kinney was the Indians’ top finisher at the race, placing in 103rd with a time of 18:10.

“It was a wake-up call,” Kinney said. “It let me know that I needed to put in a lot of work personally to be able to compete.”

Kinney is hoping that work can provide him with a memorable finale to his senior season.

“I would be satisfied if I could be in the top five or 10 at some of the bigger races,” Kinney said.


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