Racing each other lifts Pine-Richland’s Hunkele sisters to top performances

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Sunday, May 16, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Angelina and Elizabeth Hunkele love to compete.

Growing up in a running family with their dad, Mark, who is the Pine-Richland track coach, the sisters have been on plenty of family runs. They basically have been training together their entire lives.

Sometimes they have to race against each other, and there are instances when they are together on relay teams.

Whatever the situation, they are comfortable with it.

Ultimately Elizabeth, a junior, and Angelina, a freshman, want to get better every day, and racing someone in the same household can be beneficial when it comes to meeting that goal.

“It’s fun racing against her,” Elizabeth said. “There’s some competition there. We want to beat each other, but it’s fun at the same time. It gives me something to push myself.”

Heading into the WPIAL Class AAA individual finals Wednesday at Slippery Rock they both put forth some of their strongest performances.

Angelina placed third in the 1,600-meter run May 8 at the Baldwin Invitational, and Elizabeth was right on her heels in sixth. Angelina set a personal best in the 1,600 at Baldwin then broke it by 4 seconds last Tuesday.

At WPIALs, both sisters were set to compete with Natalie McLean and Meredith Price on the Pine-Richland 3,200 relay team that was ranked first in the WPIAL.

Angelina entered ranked fourth in the 3,200 and 800 in the WPIAL but planned to race only the 3,200 because of the closeness of the two events. She also was to run in the 1,600 relay. It has been a strong freshman season, and she is happy to have her older sister by her side.

“It’s nice having a role model and someone to push me,” Angelina said. “That’s always a good thing to have.”

Elizabeth entered the 800 and 1,600, along with the 3,200 relay. She said the 1,600 is her best event, and she enjoys distance events, because she likes to run fast and also likes the challenge of pacing herself properly. She set a personal best in the 1,600 at 5 minutes, 19 seconds earlier this season at North Allegheny.

Mark Hunkele has been with them throughout their journey in running and has worked to find the right balance between being their father and coach.

“I’m blessed to coach the Pine-Richland boys and girls track and cross country teams, and it’s an added bonus to have my daughters on the team with some really incredible people,” He said. “Whenever I’m at practice I treat them as another kid on the team, and that works out well. At home, I’m their dad, but at practice they don’t want any extra attention. Sometimes I know that may not work, but they don’t mind having me as their coach. I’m definitely lucky to be able to coach them, but I plan to coach a long time whether they are on the team or not.”

The 3,200 relay team flexed its muscle earlier this season at the Butler Invitational, winning by 10 seconds.

“It was special,” Elizabeth said. “This is the first season we’re running with the 4-by-800 team, and we’ve been running really well. It was good to place first at an invitational of that caliber.”

The 3,200 relay team has aspirations not only to win a district title but a PIAA gold medal. Angelina and Elizabeth also hope to qualify for states in individual events.

“It’s definitely been exciting, and it’s been really nice to have great teammates to push me,” Angelina said. “We’ve all had a lot of progress throughout the season and had some nice accomplishments. I’m excited to see how we can do at WPIALs and states.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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