Training changes have Shaler cross country runner on top of her game

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Sunday, October 24, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Shaler senior cross country runner Samantha Hennen was open to new ideas.

When it came to Hennen’s last season of high school competition, she wanted to try any opportunity to improve her training.

Hennen found some inspiration through her 9-year old sister, Emily.

Emily was taking classes on training to compete in triathlons, and Samantha decided to give it a try as well. She ended up competing in her first triathlon last summer at Moraine State Park.

“Going into this season, I went into it with a different training mindset and different training goals,” Samantha Hennen said.

“I tried to shift my focus into cross training and strength training instead of running. Training with the triathlon team up north helped build my confidence.”

Hennen will lead a motivated group of Titans runners at the WPIAL championships Thursday at Cal (Pa.). Hennen, who has interest to compete collegiately from Slippery Rock, Ohio University and Appalachian State, qualified for the PIAA Class 3A championships as a freshman and sophomore.

With a smaller PIAA field last year due to the pandemic, Hennen found herself on the outside looking in.

Fellow senior Tyler Paszkowski also qualified as a sophomore, but missed last season after he collided with another runner early in the race and finished just outside the qualifying group. Ryan Paris will also be in the mix to move on to states.

“They’ve been running about 44-45 miles a week,” Titans coach Justin Eskra said. “One day a week we are doing hills really hard. They’ve been doing their track workout and tempo runs at a heavy pace. We’re hoping all of that pays off.”

With the increased emphasis on training, Hennen has started to show her focus on getting back to states. Hennen placed 10th at the Foundation Meet in Hershey — which is at the same course as the state meet — with a time of 19 minutes, 54 seconds. Hennen’s mark was her personal best on the course.

Hennen said she does make an effort to move at a different pace in races.

“I do get out faster and I maintain that pace,” Hennen said. “I didn’t maintain that pace in the past. Throughout the races this year, I am maintaining that pace and getting stronger throughout the race.”

Hennen also won the Grove City Invitational. Eskra said he’s impressed with Hennen’s transformation and how she handles races this season.

“She’s been running phenomenally this year,” Eskra said. “Last year, her best time was 19:55. This year, she’s run 18:30 twice. She’s a completely different runner. In the races right now, we have her set the pace with other people and if they want to go run with her, let them go run with her.”

With a more varied skill set, along with the experience she’s gained from past meets, Hennen is hoping to earn one final shot at going to Hershey.

“I think after competing with a lot of the best girls from the state, I’m more confident that I’ll have a better chance of making it this year,” Hennen said. “I feel I can compete with some of the top girls, finally.”

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