WVC boys cross country preview: New contenders aim to dethrone Dallas

By Tom Robinson - For Times Leader
Dallas’ Mitchell Rome takes the lead during the Cliff Robbins Invitational on Saturday. - Sean McKeag | For Times Leader

Two of the most remarkable winning streaks in Wyoming Valley Conference sports appear to be ready to be put to the test when boys cross country season opens Wednesday.

After seven straight championships and 120 consecutive wins in the conference, Dallas is not the favorite entering this season.

That role goes to Holy Redeemer by the slimmest of margins over Hazleton Area.

Those were the two teams chasing Dallas last year with second- and third-place finishes, but even with an overhauled lineup the Mountaineers are regarded as the next-best title threat.

Lake-Lehman, Berwick and Crestwood are expected to maintain their positions near the top of the standings.

Dallas returns only Mitchell Rome, a 12th-place medalist in Class 2A and the WVC’s top state finisher a year ago, from the top seven runners who consistently figured in the scoring for a team that won conference regular-season and championship meet titles as well as the District 2 title. The Mountaineers were state champions in 2015 and 2016 before finishing fourth in the state a year ago.

Holy Redeemer joined Dallas at the last two state meets after taking District 2’s second-berth in Class 2A.

The Royals have a new coach, but many familiar faces in the lineup.

First-year coach Nicholas Capaci has a team led by seniors Bryce Zapusek, Dominic Capaci, George Strish and Lukas Volpetti, who all finished in the top 22 in District 2 last year.

Zapusek joined Dallas’ Rome as first-team Times Leader all-stars last fall. Capaci was a second-teamer and the only other underclassmen recognized among the all-stars.

“With the loss of so many seniors from last year’s squad, it will be a difficult year for us,” Dallas coach Matt Samuel said. “We’re playing catch-up a little right now.

“However, with the leadership of Mitchell Rome, our boys are going to become better as the season rolls along.”

Rome opened the season with a second-place finish, the best by a WVC runner, at the 44th annual Cliff Robbins Invitational Saturday at his home course.

The Robbins Invitational does not include team scoring, but if it did, Holy Redeemer would have been champion Saturday at Misericordia and Hazleton Area would have also finished ahead of Dallas.

Both Capaci and Joseph Smolinsky, coach of Hazleton Area, which competes in Class 3A as part of the District 2-4 Subregional in the postseason, pointed to district titles as goals for their teams as well this season.

Hazleton Area has to replace four-time state qualifier Franklin Cunningham, but has a strong senior class.

Crestwood’s Kyle Price joins Rome and Holy Redeemer’s four leaders as returning district medalists and state qualifiers. Price made it last year as a freshman.

WVC CAPSULES

DALLAS

2017 WVC Record: 18-0

2017 Postseason: Finished 1st of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet. Finished fourth out of 21 teams in state Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: State medalist Mitchell Rome is the only returnee from last year’s top seven, which had been largely responsible for two state titles and two other finishes in the top eight in the state in the last four years. There are some runners who were part of the program, training and running with that successful group that has graduated. A strong conference has helped ready Dallas for state competition, but that same conference depth could make things tough on the Mountaineers as they pursue an eighth straight title. “The WVC will certainly not make it easy,” coach Matt Samuel said.

HOLY REDEEMER

2017 WVC Record: 17-1

2017 Postseason: Finished 2nd of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet. Finished 14th out of 21 teams in state Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: District medalists Dominic Capaci, Lukas Volpetti, Bryce Zapusek and George Strish are all back for their senior seasons under new coach Nicholas Capaci. Five other seniors, led by Larry Corridoni and Christian Holmes, have experience. Junior Nick Pikul is expected to be the other top-seven runner. Zapusek and Volpetti finished third and seventh overall – and second and fourth among WVC runners – to lead a strong team showing in Saturday’s Cliff Robbins Invitational.

HAZLETON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 16-2

2017 Postseason: Finished 3rd out of 7 in District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Seniors Gabe Makkittrick, Bobby Earley and Charlie Valdez and sophomore Zach Keiner give the Cougars four of their top five runners back from last season’s district lineup. Keiner opened the season by finishing sixth overall – and third-best among WVC runners – at the Robbins Invitational. Julian Smith extends the strong senior class. Steve Hudock, Ricky Munoz, sophomore Adam Swiech and freshman Nick Habel add to the depth.

BERWICK

2017 WVC Record: 14-4

2017 Postseason: Finished 4th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Bulldogs lost district runner-up Mitchell Martin to graduation, but return their next four runners in seniors Johnny Morgan, Griffin Keller, Kyler Hower and Long Le. Five sophomores join two more seniors in trying to provide depth behind the strong top four.

CRESTWOOD

2017 WVC Record: 14-4

2017 Postseason: Finished 3rd of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Kyle Price is one of the WVC’s top sophomores. “The boys are a completely new team with the exception of Kyle Price, who did a great job for us last year and will be a key leader on the team,” coach Robert Moulton said. “We have a solid team that will take time to build up and can do great things if they really work for it over the next couple years together.”

LAKE-LEHMAN

2017 WVC Record: 13-5

2017 Postseason: Finished 8th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Sophomore Chandler Longstreth is back to lead a deep roster. “We have 19 boys on the roster and we expect to gain valuable experience and should be very competitive in the WVC this season,” said John Sobocinski, last year’s Times Leader Cross Country Coach of the Year, who is entering his 16th season. Senior Dillon Ide, junior Bryan Morio and sophomores Sam Lukasavage, Neil Dougherty and Liam Pendleton also return from last season’s young district lineup. Will McCarroll and Brady Newman led a strong freshman group in the Robbins Invitational.

WYOMING VALLEY WEST

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 7th of 7 in District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Sophomores Tavian McKenna and Mike McCann lead a young, but experienced, group of runners that has experienced success on the junior high level where many of them won a championship together. Senior Alex Cimochowski, junior Kevin Mejia and sophomores Andrew Novrocki and Anthony Severns are also back from last year’s top seven. Adam Cavalari, Ben Bowen and Logan Romanowski are freshmen who could figure into the scoring.

HANOVER AREA

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 9th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Junior Joey Rowley and sophomore Stephen Rowley are back to lead the team. Seniors Vinnie Matthews and Max Mendrzycki and sophomore Samuel June are also back from last season’s district lineup. Promising freshman Masin Seriani and sophomore Steven Kauffman are likely to complete the scoring lineup.

COUGHLIN

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 12th out of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Nate Searfoss is the top returnee for the Crusaders, who had a light turnout for their final season before Wilkes-Barre athletic programs merge. Tony Edgio is an addition from the basketball team.

PITTSTON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 9-9

2017 Postseason: Finished 11th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Dave Jiunta expects the team to move above the .500 mark in this, his 17th season. Senior captain Dom Angradi is back to lead the team, along with junior Nate Ridgley. Senior Evan Elko, junior Peyton O’Boyle and sophomore Billy Bonczek also return. Senior Kyle Mlodzienski, also the school’s soccer goalie, could be the third runner on days when he does not have soccer games.

TUNKHANNOCK

2017 WVC Record: 8-10

2017 Postseason: Finished 7th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Peter Sayre, A.J. Hodge, Nathan Meyers and Isaac Clark are the top returnees for the Tigers in coach Randy White’s 20th season.

WYOMING SEMINARY

2017 WVC Record: 7-11

2017 Postseason: Finished 9th of 12 teams in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Freshmen Angelo Lombardo and Caeran Green joined returning senior Cameron Shedlock as the team’s top three runners in the Robbins Invitational.

GAR

2017 WVC Record: 6-12

2017 Postseason: Finished 17th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Grenadiers are entering their final season before the Wilkes-Barre sports programs merge.

WYOMING AREA

2017 WVC Record: 5-13

2017 Postseason: Finished 15th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Former Pittston Area runner Kristen Lombardo takes over as coach of the Warriors. Senior Nicholas Katulka, juniors George Sharkey and Jacob Switzer and sophomores Michael Branley and Jacob Katulka all return. Grant Smith is a promising freshman. “I think we are in a great position to really improve upon last year’s record and make some noise,” Lombardo said.

NORTHWEST

2017 WVC Record: 4-14

2017 Postseason: Finished 12th of 12 in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: The Rangers return the bulk of a lineup that have run together for years, beginning in junior high. Senior Wyatt Morris, junior Caleb Cumberland and sophomores Kevin Panko, Zeke Rodriguez and Camryn Weber are back. Sophomore Matt Pierontoni could also make an impact.

MMI PREP

2017 WVC Record: 3-15

2017 Postseason: Finished 11th of 12 in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Seniors Danny Demelfi and Cole Smith return to a team that should get a boost from freshman Conner Spencer. Sophomore Aaron Haber has some experience and should also figure into the scoring with senior Fred Mejia. Sophomore Kyle Kim is another newcomer who could help.

COLUMBIA-MONTOUR VO-TECH

2017 WVC Record: 3-15

2017 Postseason: Finished 18th of 18 in District 4 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A (District 4 member)

Outlook: The Bloomsburg school is the only non-District 2 member in the conference, competing in the WVC in cross country only. Seniors Maverick Kramer, Dario Whitmoyer and Jake James and junior Norman Verbeck are the top returnees. Jack Harthorn is a senior, who is new to the team. “I’m looking for Maverick Kramer, Norman Verbeck and Jack Harthorn to challenge each other for the top spot on the boys side,” coach Lora Learn said. “Those three are highly competitive so it should be fun to watch.”

NANTICOKE

2017 WVC Record: 0-17

2017 Postseason: Did not compete in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Tyler Skoniecki, the school’s only entry in last year’s district meet, is back. The Trojans entered three runners in the Robbins Invitational, led by Levi Vick.

MEYERS

2017 WVC Record: 0-17

2017 Postseason: Did not compete in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Mohawks were unable to enter five runners in any meet last year. This is the last year Meyers will be on its own before combining athletic programs with Coughlin and GAR.

Dallas’ Mitchell Rome takes the lead during the Cliff Robbins Invitational on Saturday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_TTL090118XC2-1.jpgDallas’ Mitchell Rome takes the lead during the Cliff Robbins Invitational on Saturday. Sean McKeag | For Times Leader

By Tom Robinson

For Times Leader

WVC CAPSULES

DALLAS

2017 WVC Record: 18-0

2017 Postseason: Finished 1st of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet. Finished fourth out of 21 teams in state Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: State medalist Mitchell Rome is the only returnee from last year’s top seven, which had been largely responsible for two state titles and two other finishes in the top eight in the state in the last four years. There are some runners who were part of the program, training and running with that successful group that has graduated. A strong conference has helped ready Dallas for state competition, but that same conference depth could make things tough on the Mountaineers as they pursue an eighth straight title. “The WVC will certainly not make it easy,” coach Matt Samuel said.

HOLY REDEEMER

2017 WVC Record: 17-1

2017 Postseason: Finished 2nd of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet. Finished 14th out of 21 teams in state Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: District medalists Dominic Capaci, Lukas Volpetti, Bryce Zapusek and George Strish are all back for their senior seasons under new coach Nicholas Capaci. Five other seniors, led by Larry Corridoni and Christian Holmes, have experience. Junior Nick Pikul is expected to be the other top-seven runner. Zapusek and Volpetti finished third and seventh overall – and second and fourth among WVC runners – to lead a strong team showing in Saturday’s Cliff Robbins Invitational.

HAZLETON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 16-2

2017 Postseason: Finished 3rd out of 7 in District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Seniors Gabe Makkittrick, Bobby Earley and Charlie Valdez and sophomore Zach Keiner give the Cougars four of their top five runners back from last season’s district lineup. Keiner opened the season by finishing sixth overall – and third-best among WVC runners – at the Robbins Invitational. Julian Smith extends the strong senior class. Steve Hudock, Ricky Munoz, sophomore Adam Swiech and freshman Nick Habel add to the depth.

BERWICK

2017 WVC Record: 14-4

2017 Postseason: Finished fourth of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Bulldogs lost district runner-up Mitchell Martin to graduation, but return their next four runners in seniors Johnny Morgan, Griffin Keller, Kyler Hower and Long Le. Five sophomores join two more seniors in trying to provide depth behind the strong top four.

CRESTWOOD

2017 WVC Record: 14-4

2017 Postseason: Finished 3rd of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Kyle Price is one of the WVC’s top sophomores. “The boys are a completely new team with the exception of Kyle Price, who did a great job for us last year and will be a key leader on the team,” coach Robert Moulton said. “We have a solid team that will take time to build up and can do great things if they really work for it over the next couple years together.”

LAKE-LEHMAN

2017 WVC Record: 13-5

2017 Postseason: Finished 8th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Sophomore Chandler Longstreth is back to lead a deep roster. “We have 19 boys on the roster and we expect to gain valuable experience and should be very competitive in the WVC this season,” said John Sobocinski, last year’s Times Leader Cross Country Coach of the Year, who is entering his 16th season. Senior Dillon Ide, junior Bryan Morio and sophomores Sam Lukasavage, Neil Dougherty and Liam Pendleton also return from last season’s young district lineup. Will McCarroll and Brady Newman led a strong freshman group in the Robbins Invitational.

WYOMING VALLEY WEST

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 7th of 7 in District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Sophomores Tavian McKenna and Mike McCann lead a young, but experienced, group of runners that has experienced success on the junior high level where many of them won a championship together. Senior Alex Cimochowski, junior Kevin Mejia and sophomores Andrew Novrocki and Anthony Severns are also back from last year’s top seven. Adam Cavalari, Ben Bowen and Logan Romanowski are freshmen who could figure into the scoring.

HANOVER AREA

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 9th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Junior Joey Rowley and sophomore Stephen Rowley are back to lead the team. Seniors Vinnie Matthews and Max Mendrzycki and sophomore Samuel June are also back from last season’s district lineup. Promising freshman Masin Seriani and sophomore Steven Kauffman are likely to complete the scoring lineup.

COUGHLIN

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 12th out of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Nate Searfoss is the top returnee for the Crusaders, who had a light turnout for their final season before Wilkes-Barre athletic programs merge. Tony Edgio is an addition from the basketball team.

PITTSTON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 9-9

2017 Postseason: Finished 11th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Senior Dam Angradi and junior Nate Ridgely are the top returnees with senior Evan Elko and junior Peyton O’Boyle also back.

TUNKHANNOCK

2017 WVC Record: 8-10

2017 Postseason: Finished 7th of 18 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Peter Sayre, A.J. Hodge, Nathan Meyers and Isaac Clark are the top returnees for the Tigers in coach Randy White’s 20th season.

WYOMING SEMINARY

2017 WVC Record: 7-11

2017 Postseason: Finished 9th of 12 teams in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Freshmen Angelo Lombardo and Caeran Green joined returning senior Cameron Shedlock as the team’s top three runners in the Robbins Invitational.

GAR

2017 WVC Record: 6-12

2017 Postseason: Finished 17th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Grenadiers are entering their final season before the Wilkes-Barre sports programs merge.

WYOMING AREA

2017 WVC Record: 5-13

2017 Postseason: Finished 15th of 18 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Former Pittston Area runner Kristen Lombardo takes over as coach of the Warriors. Senior Nicholas Katulka, juniors George Sharkey and Jacob Switzer and sophomores Michael Branley and Jacob Katulka all return. Grant Smith is a promising freshman. “I think we are in a great position to really improve upon last year’s record and make some noise,” Lombardo said.

NORTHWEST

2017 WVC Record: 4-14

2017 Postseason: Finished 12th of 12 in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: The Rangers return the bulk of a lineup that have run together for years, beginning in junior high. Senior Wyatt Morris, junior Caleb Cumberland and sophomores Kevin Panko, Zeke Rodriguez and Camryn Weber are back. Sophomore Matt Pierontoni could also make an impact.

MMI PREP

2017 WVC Record: 3-15

2017 Postseason: Finished 11th of 12 in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Seniors Coleman Smith and Danny Demelfi and sophomore Aaron Haber return to a team that should get a boost from freshman Conner Spencer.

COLUMBIA-MONTOUR VO-TECH

2017 WVC Record: 3-15

2017 Postseason: Finished 18th of 18 in District 4 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A (District 4 member)

Outlook: The Bloomsburg school is the only non-District 2 member in the conference, competing in the WVC in cross country only. Seniors Maverick Kramer, Dario Whitmoyer and Jake James and junior Norman Verbeck are the top returnees. Jack Harthorn is a senior, who is new to the team. “I’m looking for Maverick Kramer, Norman Verbeck and Jack Harthorn to challenge each other for the top spot on the boys side,” coach Lora Learn said. “Those three are highly competitive so it should be fun to watch.”

NANTICOKE

2017 WVC Record: 0-17

2017 Postseason: Did not compete in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Tyler Skoniecki, the school’s only entry in last year’s district meet, is back. The Trojans entered three runners in the Robbins Invitational, led by Levi Vick.

MEYERS

2017 WVC Record: 0-17

2017 Postseason: Did not compete in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Mohawks were unable to enter five runners in any meet last year. This is the last year Meyers will be on its own before combining athletic programs with Coughlin and GAR.

Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @TLsports

Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @TLsports