Boys Varsity Cross Country
Published 9:04 p.m. ET Sept. 17, 2019 | Updated 8:47 a.m. ET Sept. 18, 2019
The Saints' No. 1 runner has won three-straight cross-country races to open the 2019 season.
All Jack Pennewell has to do this cross country season is run.
The St. Clair junior has won three-straight races, including the always-competitive Duane Raffin Festival of Races last Saturday in Holly.
A year ago, a stress fracture in his left leg should have sidelined him. Instead, he chose to race to help the Saints keep their Division 2 state championship appearance streak alive.
"Jack came back halfway into the season but wasn't himself, as far as place and time go," St. Clair coach Tom Brenner said. "He gutted out the rest of the season, and the team made the state finals for the 19th consecutive season.
"Most kids wouldn't do what he did, running slower than normal after months off, but he did it to help his team and our program."
It wasn't the first time Pennewell made a tough choice.
As a freshman, he split time with both the cross country and soccer teams. When he wasn't scoring goals on the pitch, he was training for 5-kilometer races. He placed in the top-11 eight times that season.
Playing both sports was too tiresome for him, though.
"It was really hard on my body," Pennewell said. "It just broke me down, and I got hurt, so I had to choose to do one sport full time. We ended up having a couple of hard weeks of practice in cross country. Afterward, I'd go to soccer and just be straining myself.
"I just couldn't do that anymore. I ended up sitting the sidelines in both sports until I was healed."
Pennewell recovered by track season last spring. He had a full off-season to train solely for cross country this fall, something he's never been able to do since he started running seriously in the fifth grade.
The results speak for themselves.
He took eighth in the Benzie Central Pete Moss Invitational on Aug. 24, kicking off the season with a time of 16 minutes, 14 seconds. He quickly bested that mark by crossing the finish line in 16:08 for a personal record at the Algonac Muskrat Classic two weeks later.
After winning Sept. 10's Macomb Area Conference-White jamboree in 16:41, he won last week's meet in Holly in 16:36.
"He's been one of the hardest workers at St. Clair this last year," Brenner said. "Not just in cross country but in the entire high school. He had that stress fracture and recovered nicely, becoming an all-state miler in track and picking up this fall right where he left off."
"Jack has a passion for running and a passion for winning. He shows it every single day, putting everything he has into every workout. Everybody wants to run fast in a race, but Jack wants to race hard, and that pays off."
Pennewell, who was voted a team captain over the summer, is currently the ninth-ranked runner in D-2, about 1:02 behind top-seeded Evan Bishop of East Grand Rapids.
His goal is to break 16 minutes before the regional meet in late October. There's a chance doing so will push the Saints to their 20th straight appearance at the state finals.