North Hills runners look back on cross country season
There’s something special about running cross country.
It is one part an individual competition and one part a team sport in which reaching one’s goals is good for everyone wearing the same colors.
It’s a sport with which North Hills seniors Jake Heinauer and Mike Burchlaw fell in love. The captains led the Indians this year to fourth place in the WPIAL boys AAA championship, just one spot shy of the team qualifying for the state competition.
“My uncle ran cross country in high school and college, and my mom was always a runner,” said Heinauer, 17, of Ross. “It was something a few years ago I thought I’d like to do and could be good at.”
He soon realized it was a sport in which, while he relied on teammates to do their part for conquering opposing teams, he also could determine his own fate.
“I knew I could get out what I put in,” Heinauer said. “It seemed like if you had self-discipline, you could do well. I think a lot of runners realize that, too. It’s you against everyone else, even your own teammates. Of course, we still want to do things as a team.”
The team did work together toward a common goal — competing in states — but fell short Oct. 23 at Cooper’s Lake in Slippery Rock.
“I definitely wanted to make it to states because we felt we were one of the top WPIAL teams,” said Burchlaw, 17, of Ross. “But Canon-McMillan came out of nowhere because they didn’t run invites. We thought we’d be third team in WPIAL, but they beat Mt. Lebanon, too, and pushed us out.”
The fourth-place finish at the WPIAL championships meant that the team sent just Heinauer and Burchlaw, who qualified as individuals, to states.
“I’m very proud of our team because I’m not really disappointed because we still did what we thought we’d have to do to beat a lot of other talented teams,” Burchlaw said.
The duo ran individually in the boys AAA championship in Hershey on Nov. 1, with Burchlaw finishing 40th and Heinauer finishing 73rd.
“It’s usually a good sign if we see other,” Heinauer said. “But I had a bad race … I was in seventh place going into mile one, but I had an asthma flare-up, and it really came back to get me. I was happy to finish it because the Hershey course is brutal.”
It’s not the last race they’ll run together.
The track and field season is coming up.
“I don’t know how I feel right now,” Burchlaw said. “The end of the season kind of came out of nowhere. I guess it’s kind of sad because it was always pretty awesome to be a part of, but there’s still track.”
Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.