Lancaster Country Day senior Arielle Breuninger was the top Lancaster-Lebanon League finisher in the District 3-3A girls cross country championship race back on Oct. 31, finishing fourth on the Big Spring course.
So it was odd when Breuninger, who runs for McCaskey through a co-op between the School District of Lancaster and LCD, was nowhere to be found near the finish line at the PIAA 3A championship race a week later in Hershey on what was an unseasonably warm day.
“Unfortunately I was feeling kind of sick that day,” Breuninger recalled. “The heat may have had a bit of an impact as well. I went through the first mile and I was alright but I wasn’t feeling very well. Then I had to stop around the two-mile mark. ...I didn’t pass out. I ended up just walking back slowly with my parents once I regained my senses.”
Being unable to finish at the state championship meet meant Breuninger didn’t have a time to show to the coaches at the college programs she had been reaching out to for months, pursuing her aspiration to run at the next level.
“I was very disappointed with how I did,” Breuninger said. “But I didn’t want that race to define my cross country season or be the final cross country race of my senior year.”
It’s why, a week later, she made the trek to Indiana to compete in the XC Town USA Meet of Champions.
“I finished 41st against some of the fastest girls across the country,” Breuninger said. “It was a way to redeem myself after the state meet. The Meet of Champions was a good benchmark in comparing me to people from all over.”
Shortly after her performance in Indiana, the UPenn coaches expressed interest in Breuninger and offered her a roster spot. She committed to UPenn last week following a long college application process. She plans to study bio-engineering.
“It’s nice to be able to have that all decided and finished,” she said.
Breuninger had also been seriously considering Brigham Young University because it’s the alma mater of her father, John, a Lampeter-Strasburg alum who went on to run for the Cougars. He’s the man who introduced the love for running to Arielle Breuninger when she was a sixth-grader after she sustained an elbow injury in gymnastics.
“I was looking for another sport to try that didn’t involve my elbow,” Breuninger said. “My dad had been a runner. So I decided to go out for the cross country team. Ultimately that’s what I decided to pursue.”
Breuninger led the McCaskey girls to the L-L Section One crown with a perfect 10-0 record last fall. At UPenn, she plans to run cross country and compete in the long-distance events for the indoor winter track and outdoor spring track programs. She’ll be teammates with current Cedar Crest senior and fellow UPenn commit Gwyneth Young.
Asked what she’s learned from the challenges faced on and off the cross country courses, Breuninger said, “One important thing that I’ve learned is consistency.”
“Consistency in training and just sticking with it,” she said. “My freshman year when I was relatively new to distance running, especially during the winter season, it’s difficult to go out and run in the cold. I made sure to make that a priority, to run each day and get my mileage in. There wasn’t a noticeable difference right away in the moment, but eventually I noticed my time started dropping. So you might not see impacts right away, but it definitely comes in time.”