WVC girls cross country preview: Returning talent ready to buoy league

By Tom Robinson - For Times Leader
Crestwood’s Molly DeMarzo made a quick impact after winning at the Cliff Robbins Invitational. - Sean McKeag | For Times Leader

The top five teams from the 2017 Wyoming Valley Conference girls cross country standings all have at least one all-star returning to the lineup.

With eight of the league’s top 15 runners, based on the Times Leader all-star teams, returning with strong supporting casts and significant additions, an interesting race could develop for conference supremacy as teams are preparing themselves for postseason competition.

Dallas is the defending champion and has the most all-stars returning, but a strong performance in Saturday’s season-opening Cliff Robbins Invitational supports Holy Redeemer being a co-favorite with the Mountaineers in the WVC race, which opens Wednesday.

Lake-Lehman, the only team to beat Dallas in the past six seasons, also appears to again be a strong title threat after finishing second a year ago.

The two Back Mountain rivals have established themselves at the top of the conference. Dallas is 100-1 in the last six seasons and 163-4 over the past decade. Lake-Lehman is 63-5 in the last four seasons with three of the losses coming to Dallas.

Hazleton Area, the third-place team in 2017, and Hanover Area, a potentially rising team coming off a 13-5 season, add depth to the conference race.

Crestwood and Berwick are two more teams given a chance to climb, according to some opposing coaches, and Pittston Area has a key leader back from its fifth-place team.

Megan Borton, a junior who is already a two-time first-team, all-star, and sophomore Kaitlyn Hodakowski, the WVC’s top finisher in the 2017 state meet as a freshman, are both back for Dallas. They are joined by second-team, all-stars Madison Baloga and Emily Finnegan.

Juniors Abby Paczewski from Lake-Lehman and Nicole Zambetti from Pittston Area, join Borton and Hodakowski as girls who are returning first-team, all-stars that still have another year ahead in which to build their running resumes.

More talented young runners are trying to make their push to the front of the pack.

Holy Redeemer sophomore Anna Capaci and Hazleton Area junior Katie Balay were each second-team, all-stars last season.

Nicholas Capaci has taken over as head coach at Holy Redeemer, which must replace two-time Times Leader Runner of the Year Lindsey Williams, who has graduated.

Anna Capaci and Destiny Andes medaled with 14th- and 20th-place finishes in District 2 Class 2A last season.

They had plenty of help at the Robbins Invitational.

Cameron Marcinkowski led the team, placing seventh.

“Cameron Marcinkowski battled injury last season and is hungry to show the conference what she’s got,” coach Capaci said. “The rest of the team is new to the varsity cross country experience with a lot of potential.”

Capaci, Andes and freshmen Grace Holmes and Chelsea Flaherty all finished between 12th and 18th in Saturday’s 133-runner field.

Dallas returns five of the seven runners from its state-qualifying team.

“We lost some real quality leaders this past year and are dealing with some injuries early on,” coach Matt Samuel said. “Our girls are working hard to make the end of the season successful.”

Lake-Lehman’s distance running group sent three runners off of last year’s team on to college programs.

The Black Knights, however, return five of their top eight runners and coach John Sobocinski calls Robbins third-place finisher Madison Brdaric “a valuable addition to our roster.”

Crestwood added freshman Molly Demarzo, a multiple-event junior high champion who made her varsity debut by beating a talented field of established runners to take the Robbins title.

WVC CAPSULES

HOLY REDEEMER

2017 WVC Record: 15-3

2017 Postseason: Finished 5th out of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Emily Thomas is the only experienced senior and the Royals are replacing two-time Times Leader Runner of the Year Lindsey Williams, but first-year coach Nicholas Capaci has plenty with which to work. Destiny Andes and Anna Capaci are once again near the top of the lineup, Cameron Marcinkowski should be a factor more consistently after previously being slowed by injury and the freshman class is strong. If team scores were kept at the season-opening Cliff Robbins Invitational, Holy Redeemer would have finished first, ahead of multiple teams that had superior 2017 seasons.

DALLAS

2017 WVC Record: 18-0

2017 Postseason: Finished second of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet. Finished 15th of 19 teams in state Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The defending champions did not run their full lineup in the Robbins Invitational, but coach Matt Samuel hopes the team will get stronger as it gets healthier. Senior Grace Jarden, juniors Megan Borton, Madison Baloga and Emily Finnegan and sophomores Kaitlyn Hodakowski were all fixtures on last year’s title team. “We are going to need our entire team to step up and fill some early voids,” Samuel said.

LAKE-LEHMAN

2017 WVC Record: 17-1

2017 Postseason: Finished 4th of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Jace Garnick, Jade Fry and Olivia Vasey have all headed off to run in college, but Lake-Lehman still has a lot of talent and experience on the team. Seniors Lauryn Pembleton, Lizzy Blaski and Tiffany Lasinki, juniors Abby Paczewski and Morgan Patla and sophomore Natasha Mihalko are all back. Sophomore newcomer Madison Brdaric made an impressive debut, placing third at the Robbins. “The overall goal is always to reach the state championship meet in Hershey,” coach John Sobocinski said. “We have several athletes that should have the opportunity to earn a trip to states.”

HAZLETON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 16-2

2017 Postseason: Finished 6th of 7 teams in District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Katie Balay is back after finishing sixth in the District 2-4 Class 3A Subregional last year. Natalie Campbell, Sarah Myers and Kristie Semanchik also return. Mackenzie Milot looks strong in a return from injury while Margaret Flores and freshman Sayona McKittrick are likely contributors among the newcomers.

HANOVER AREA

2017 WVC Record: 13-5

2017 Postseason: Finished 8th out of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Hawkeyes put together an impressive season a year ago with a top five of two sophomores and three freshmen. Sophomore Alicia Orzechowski returns as the top runner with plenty of support from juniors Caitlyn Bly and Madison Hooper and sophomores Victoria Ortiz and Kaycee Wren. Another sophomore, Hailey Griffin, returns and freshman Kaitlyn McCarthy is expectied to make an impact on one of the conference’s up-and-coming teams. “Our girls team is still relatively young, but has a great work ethic and leadership,” 12th-year coach Carl Daubert said. “We are hoping to improve on last year’s performances and be very competitive.”

CRESTWOOD

2017 WVC Record: 10-8

2017 Postseason: Finished 10th of 14 in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Molly DeMarzo made a quick, successful transition from running – and usually winning – 3-kilometer junior high races to running the varsity distance of 5K (3.1 miles). DeMarzo’s high school debut was the win in the Robbins Invitational by 13 seconds over defending District 2 champion Mia Bellucci from Scranton Prep. DeMarzo joins a lineup that returns seniors Liz Katulka, Delani Munson and Olivia Grozio and sophomore Caitrin Mullisky.

BERWICK

2017 WVC Record: 5-10

2017 Postseason: Did not compete as a full team in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Bulldogs are very young and enter the season with a small roster. Senior Hannah Giesinski returns. Sophomore Regan Metz was the top Berwick runner at districts. The rest of the season-opening lineup is sophomores Jaida Geiser and Angeni Peters and freshman Mykala Patel.

PITTSTON AREA

2017 WVC Record: 14-4

2017 Postseason: Finished 5th of 7 teams in District 2 Class 3A meet.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: State qualifier Nicole Zambetti returns for her senior year. With seniors Bailey Loyack and Kiersten Grieco and sophomore Shawna Rodzinak also returning, the Patriots could surprise some. “We have a couple new girls our for the first time this year who could become a big help once they become more comfortable with the workouts and the race,” coach Joe Struckus said. Sophomore Morgan Gromelski and freshman Marissa Gubitoso could be the top newcomers.

WYOMING AREA

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 9th of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Kristen Lombardo is the new coach at Wyoming Area, which may have a hard time sending out a five-runner scoring lineup in many meets. The base of the team is sophomore returnees Aubriana Marranca and Erika Holweg and new freshmen Kaitlyn Malet and Ella Schultz. Sophomore soccer player Olivia Kwiatkowski, the team’s top finisher at the Robbins Invitational, will help when her schedule allows.

WYOMING SEMINARY

2017 WVC Record: 11-7

2017 Postseason: Finished 2nd of 6 in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: The Blue Knights lost 2017 second-team, all-star April Kupsky, who is now attending school in Florida. Sophomores Heather Paglia, Julia Burg and Caroline Siegel led the team in the Robbins Invitational. Paglia was the team’s third runner and a top-20 finisher during the district runner-up finish last season.

WYOMING VALLEY WEST

2017 WVC Record: 7-11

2017 Postseason: Did not compete as a team in District 2-4 Class 3A meet.

2018 Classification: 3A

Outlook: Seniors Autumn Gaylord and Rachelle Youells and sophomores Chloe Inniss and Hannah Leary return for Valley West.

NORTHWEST

2017 WVC Record: 6-9

2017 Postseason: Did not complete as a team in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Three freshmen – Abigail Strange, Alivia Wright and Abigail Zielicki – are expected to lead the team.

GAR

2017 WVC Record: 5-10

2017 Postseason: Finished 14th of 14 teams in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Grenadiers are entering their last season before the athletic programs are merged with Coughlin and Meyers.

TUNKHANNOCK

2017 WVC Record: 4-11

2017 Postseason: Did not compete as a full team in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Junior Madelyn Franko and sophomores Alison Edwards, Anna Brown and Camryn Rogers are expected to lead the team.

MMI PREP

2017 WVC Record: 3-12

2017 Postseason: Finished 6th of six teams in District 2 Class A meet.

2018 Classification: A

Outlook: Coach Jon Weaver said he is still looking to get a fifth runner out so the Preppers can seek team competition. Senior Lauren Herman and sophomores Natalie Graham, Morgan Hosier and Samantha Sparich make up the current lineup.

COLUMBIA-MONTOUR VO-TECH

2017 WVC Record: 0-14

2017 Postseason: Did not complete as a full team in the District 4 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A (District 4 member)

Outlook: Junior Haley Masteller and senior Tasha Farr, who coach Lora Learn said came in well-prepared for her final season, should compete for the team’s top spot. Senior Kyra Tappe and sophomore Makenzie Regan also return.

NANTICOKE

2017 WVC Record: 0-14

2017 Postseason: Did not compete as a full team in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Sophomore Rebecca Ottensman was the school’s only entry in the Robbins Invitational.

MEYERS

2017 WVC Record: 0-14

2017 Postseason: Did not compete as a full team in District 2 Class 2A meet.

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: The Mohawks will merge athletic programs with GAR and Coughlin following this season.

COUGHLIN

2017 WVC Record: 0-14

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

2018 Classification: 2A

Outlook: Emma Fortune, Catherine Shuleski, Eleanor Shuleski and Makayla Cook are expected to lead the team.

Crestwood’s Molly DeMarzo made a quick impact after winning at the Cliff Robbins Invitational.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_TTL090118XC3-1.jpgCrestwood’s Molly DeMarzo made a quick impact after winning at the Cliff Robbins Invitational. Sean McKeag | For Times Leader

By Tom Robinson

For Times Leader