Punxsy's Byerly, Schall to continue running in college

PUNXSUTAWNEY โ€” Punxsy cross country and track and field coach George Wehrle doesn't envision seniors Milea Schall or Shannon Byerly using treadmills to stay in shape.

Both girls enjoy running outside way too much.

After successful Punxsutawney Area High School cross country and track careers, both Schall and Byerly will be taking their enjoyment of competitive running to the next level next fall.

Schall, a two-time cross country district champion, a three-time state-qualifier and No. 3 on PAHS' all-time 3,200-meter run list, will attend Clarion University and compete on the Golden Eagles' cross country and track and field teams while majoring in music education.

Byerly, who has reached the state cross country meet three times and is No. 3 on the school's all-time 1,600-meter run list, will attend Slippery Rock University and run for the Rock's cross country and track and field teams while majoring in exercise science and physical therapy.

For both seniors, running is more than just a hobby, but a lifestyle.

When Schall ran for the middle school cross country team in eighth grade, it was just for fun.

Things changed quickly.

"By high school, I was realizing that I really liked it, and I wanted to get good at it," she said. "I just really like to be in shape, and running obviously gets you really in shape. I just enjoy working to get faster."

Byerly joked that she started her track and field career as a sprinter in seventh grade, but soon found out that distance running was best for her.

"Whenever I found that I really liked distance more, it's just always been my thing. I like to go fast sometimes, but I would rather run longer," she said. "I just like the physical and health benefits of it and how I feel after running."

Not only did both start to run longer distances, but also for longer periods of time. Both were on the cross country team in the fall and track and field squad in the spring, but they didn't stop during the offseasons.

Both girls can be seen running throughout the streets of Punxsutawney and the surrounding areas of PAHS and PAMS. From the fall to spring, both would try to run five to seven miles a day, and once the weather improved in the summer, they would usually exceed 10 miles per day, at least six days a week.

Their constant will to improve led to both girls getting noticed collegiately.

Schall was originally going to attend Grove City, but decided against it because it didn't work well with her major. She was also receiving encouragement from Clarion's cross country coach, which led her to the Division II school.

Byerly had Pitt-Johnstown and St. Francis in mind, but ultimately chose Slippery Rock. She enjoyed SRU after a cross country camp last summer and was even more pleased with the perks of program, which include a trip to Alaska in the fall and a visit to Myrtle Beach next spring.

Schall has balanced her two devotions โ€” running and music โ€” all throughout high school, and that won't change once she begins to attend Clarion. Currently, she's busy singing in the PAHS choir, playing piano for the choir and playing piano with the jazz band in addition to her athletic aspirations.

She knows that she will become even busier with running and music once she heads to Clarion, but is happy to harmonize in both.

"Sports and music are pretty much the two big focuses in my life, and they both take up a lot of time," she said. "It's hard to do both, but they're my two big passions. I don't want to give either one up."

Wehrle, who has coached both girls the past four years in cross country and track and field, knew that they had what it took to run collegiately two years ago.

"By the time they were sophomores, you could tell that they both had the work ethic and ability," he said. "I'm happy that they want to keep running. They both seem to like it. I bet they'll be running a large part of their life."

Wehrle said that the pair nearly turned into his assistant coaches once they were juniors. They have taken both sports seriously by putting in the time during the offseason, something that some other runners don't pursue.

"They both like the nature of it. They both like going on new trails. I think they really kind of appreciate the changes of the seasons," Wehrle said. "It's hard to get out there for cold, dark days, but they do it. I think they know that it's better for them (to also run during the offseason), but I think they also would miss it if they went weeks without running."

With college currently on the back burner for now, they both have goals for this track and field season. Both want to reach states, something that isn't easy in District IX Class AAA, since just one runner from each event can qualify, unless the runners-up crack the state standard.

St. Marys' Adair Gennocro, the reigning 3,200-meter run district champion, and DuBois' Catherino Sheffo will give both Schall and Byerly a run for their money in the distance running events in May.

"I'd obviously like to make it to states," Schall said. "That would be a good goal to try and reach."

Schall is 22 seconds behind the 3,200-meter run record set by Kelsey Acre, and Byerly is within 16 seconds of the 1,600-meter run record held by Jackie Cassebaum. Still, if state qualification or record-breaking performances aren't in the cards, both are in search of enjoying the final year of their varsity careers.

"I've always had the goal of breaking a record, but I'm cutting that pretty close now," Byerly said. "I just want to have fun and do as well as I can."