Returning runners step into key roles for Pine-Richland cross country team

Sunday, September 11, 2022 | 11:01 AM

The Pine-Richland girls cross country team graduated two runners who are now competing at NCAA Division I schools, but there’s still a wealth of talent in the program.

There’s four returning varsity runners and some youth with good resumes.

The two runners who graduated are Meredith Price (Utah State) and Elizabeth Hunkele (Pitt), but Natalie McLean and Elizabeth Hunkele were right there with the two Division I runners last season.

McLean got off to a good start to her senior year by finishing second at the 50th Marty Uher Invitational at Cal (Pa.) on Sept. 3. She was a state medal winner in track and field last season in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

Angelina Hunkele is recovering from a shin injury, so she did not compete at Cal, but is close to returning.

The other two returning varsity runners, Brianna Franchak, a senior, and sophomore Marie Claire Daniello placed 19th and 20th, respectively, at Cal, helping the Rams finish second in the team standings.

“It went well,” Pine-Richland coach Mark Hunkele said. “It was a good first meet of the year. We were without two of our top runners, so it was nice to finish second. Natalie ran really well.”

The Rams also have a potential freshman standout in Ella Yanni, who won the middle school cross country state championship last year. Yanni missed the Marty Uher Invitational because of injury, but should be back soon. Another freshman who had success at the middle school level, Teagan Yurocko is in the varsity lineup. Sophomore Maren Iski has the unique distinction of participating in two fall sports. She’s on the cross country team and the girls soccer team. It’s her first season running cross country.

Others pushing for varsity appearances are senior Gabbi Lachimia, sophomore Sarah Wu and Jules Jung.

“We’ll have a pretty strong girls team with a deep roster,” coach Hunkele said. “We have a pretty strong top 10. With some girls out, there’s opportunity for everyone on the team. It’s hard to predict year to year, but all the girls are really driven to get on the varsity team.”

The boys team is a youthful squad with plenty of upside.

Lucas Thompson, a freshman, led the way at Cal by finishing 23rd. Ben McLean, Natalie’s younger brother, finished just behind Thompson in 25th. McLean is competing in cross country for the first time.

Kevin McLoughlin, a junior, has been close on times with McLean and Thompson in the early going.

Behind them is a large group of underclassmen looking to establish themselves in the varsity lineup, including Sam Elston, Thomas DeVito, Easson Molnar, Jonah Wynn, Simon Wynn, Luke Anderson and Liam Jameson.

“It’s a really good, young team with a lot of potential,” coach Hunkele said. “There’s a lot of ninth and 10th graders with talent that will continue to improve. It’s really hard to tell right now who the top seven or eight are with only one meet in and one time trial.”

Aside from section meets with Seneca Valley, Butler, North Allegheny and Oakland Catholic/Central Catholic, the Rams have several other meets scheduled.

They participated in the Red, White and Blue Classic over the weekend. The Spartan Invitational in Ohio (Sept. 17), Hershey Foundation Invitational (Sept. 24), Bald Eagle Invitational (Oct. 1), Legends Cross Country Meet in Ohio (Oct. 8) and TSTCA (Oct. 20) are also on the schedule leading up to the WPIAL championships Oct. 27.

The Pine-Richland girls won the Legends Meet last year.

“The goal is to keep improving throughout the season and really be at our best come mid-October for championship season,” coach Hunkele said.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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