Pine-Richland girls cross country team rounds into form after spate of injuries

Sunday, October 17, 2021 | 11:01 AM

The Pine-Richland girls cross country team has faced some adversity this year with injuries, but it hasn’t dampened the dream of winning WPIAL gold.

A big meet win Oct. 9 helped reassure the Rams that they have a team capable of getting the job done.

With a fully healthy team for the first time in a while, the Rams traveled to Cortland, Ohio, for the Legends Invitational and battled through muddy conditions to place first.

They beat Shaker Heights (Ohio) by two points. Earlier in the season, the Rams were 188 points behind Shaker Heights at the Boardman Invitational.

“We had everybody running, and everyone that has had some issues with injuries are doing a lot better,” coach Mark Hunkele said. “The Legends Invitational is a pretty big meet. There are a few teams from Pennsylvania that go, but it’s mostly Ohio teams. It was good to see the girls coming back into form. It was a very muddy course. The course was disastrous from all the rain the night before, but the girls pushed through it and ran well.”

Meredith Price placed second overall at the Legends Invitational, and Natalie McLean was fifth. Elizabeth Hunkele was 11th, and Angelina Hunkele finished 16th.

It was the first time all four had competed in a meet together in a while.

Nearly half of the varsity team has missed time because of injury. Angelina Hunkele was sidelined with a concussion but has recovered and is getting back to form. Elizabeth Hunkele had a foot injury that forced her to miss a couple weeks, and McLean missed time with a leg injury but has come back strong. Stella Fannie also was out for a couple weeks with an injury.

Audrey DeKunder, Breanna Franchak, Catherine London and Mary Claire Daniello have run well this year, which has helped the team fare well at meets in the absence of some of the top runners.

They are all on track to be 100% for the WPIAL championship Oct 28 at Cal (Pa.).

“The team is much stronger now, and we still have two weeks to prepare for WPIALs,” Coach Hunkele said. “We have nine girls that have made big contributions to the varsity squad. It’s been one day at a time. All of the athletes have been working hard to be the best they can each day with the goal of being at our best for both the WPIAL and state championships.”

The Rams boys and girls teams have one last tune-up before WPIALs at the Tri-State Invitational Thursday at Cal (Pa.).

The boys team has been healthy all year and also is gearing up to try to qualify for states.

Chris Fisher, Nick Labuda, Kevin McLoughlin, Nick King, Colby Ohlund, Robert Hoy, Thomas Kapanowski and Sam Elston have been the top eight runners. Kapanowski, Hoy and Elston are freshmen.

Fisher placed third at the Bald Eagle Invitational on Oct. 2.

“The boys are focused on preparing for WPIALs,” Coach Hunkele said. “Chris and Nick are on target to qualify individually, and Kevin will be trying to do the same. We also have a good freshman class that has been doing very well. We’re hopeful that we can get the team to states, but we have some individuals who have a great chance to finish high in the standings at WPIALs.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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