HERSHEY – The Dallas boys went out hard Saturday in their pursuit of a third straight state championship.
The Mountaineers remained in title contention as long as they could before arriving at the Parkview Cross Country Course finish line exhausted and at the end of one of the most impressive streaks ever produced by a Wyoming Valley Conference team in state competition in any sport.
Ultimately, Wyomissing, York Suburban and Harbor Creek were able to do what no team has done in a WVC meet since 2010 and no team has done within District 2 since 2014 – beat Dallas.
The Mountaineers settled for fourth place in Class 2A boys at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Championships after hitting the mile split with a 12-point lead and arriving at the two-mile mark in second, just four points behind Harbor Creek.
“We went down swinging,” Dallas coach Matt Samuel said.
The Mountaineers, who have finished eighth, first, first and fourth in the state in the past four seasons, still had two individual state medalists.
Mitchell Rome finished 12th and Jack Zardecki, the lead runner in the two state championship performances, claimed his third individual medal by placing 13th.
“I wanted to make top 15, so I got my goal being in 12th,” said Rome, who completed the 3.1-mile course in 16:37 to finish 49 seconds faster and 25 places higher than a year ago. “I actually went way faster than I thought I could have.”
Zardecki finished just one second off his time from a seventh-place finish a year ago. A strong field and ideal conditions for cross country created a fast pace, including Jersey Shore’s Isaac Davis running away to win by 20 seconds in 15:56.
Dallas had set a blistering pace in its title defense last year and, although some of the contenders were able to close the gap, none came close to catching the Mountaineers in the team standings. This time, the early lead did not hold up.
“We thought we would be able to hang on a little better at the end,” Samuel said.
The veteran coach was aware, however, of the strength of the competition. He has gotten to know coach Tim Hetrick from team champion Wyomissing since Dallas won its first state girls championship by ruining a Wyomissing shot at a third straight title.
“We knew some of the players that were going to be involved in this four-team fight,” Samuel said. “We just ended up in the fourth spot.
“That happens. I’ve been around long enough to know that was a possibility. It just didn’t work out for us today. We were pitching away at it and I was proud of the boys for that.”
Wyomissing edged York Suburban, 105-107, for first. Harbor Creek beat out Dallas, 111-134, for third. The Mountaineers were 34 points clear of the rest of the pack.
Zardecki, a senior, had been unbeaten against District 2 competition on the season before his junior teammate caught and passed him after the midway point Saturday.
“My goal was top five and that didn’t quite happen today,” Zardecki said. “I probably would have done worse if (Mitchell) didn’t come up on me.
“My hat’s off to him for running the race he did. He’s been my training partner through everything.”
Rome passed Zardecki for the first time around the midway point and they were able to encourage each other through a grueling race.
“I know it was his goal to beat me all season and he finally got it,” Zardecki said. “I’m happy for him from that aspect.”
Dallas had the day’s three best performances by WVC runners.
Adam Borton edged Crestwood’s Clay Kimsal by less than a second for 36th place. They both posted times of 17:07.
Josh Wyandt from Dallas joined them in the top 50, taking 47th in 17:21.
Franklin Cunningham from Hazleton Area ran 17:24 in his fourth appearance in Class 3A but had to settle for 132nd against the strength of the large school field.
Holy Redeemer’s Bryce Zapusek, in 57th, and Berwick’s Mitchell Martin, in 74th, joined Rome, Zardecki, Borton, Kimsal, Wyandt in the top third of the Class 2A field.
Zapusek led the Royals, who were 10th in the state a year ago, to 14th out of 21 teams in Class 2A.
Rome and Zardecki had two of District 2’s seven individual boys medalists.
Tyler Wirth, a Wallenpaupack junior who gave up soccer to run cross country for the first time this year following a successful sophomore track season, broke the 16-minute barrier to place fifth in Class 3A.
Lackawanna League runners took three of the top six spots and four of the top 19 in Class A.
Brandon Curley and Liam Mead placed fifth and sixth to lead Montrose to third as a team.
Andrew Healey from Holy Cross had the best place finish from the district, taking fourth. Elk Lake’s Peyton Jones was 19th.
The Dallas streak was not the only one to end.
District 2 had won a state championship, either team or individual, boys or girls, in each season since the PIAA switched from two to three classifications in 2012. The district had claimed 13 state cross country championships over the previous five years.