DALLAS TWP. – Jack Zardecki is a four-time Wyoming Valley Conference, three-time District 2 and two-time state champion as a team member.
Far more often than not, even including his younger days, Zardecki has not just been part of, but has been the leader of continuing the Dallas dynasty in cross country.
Before leaving Dallas to pursue running on the NCAA Division I level in college, Zardecki entered his senior season with individual goals to fulfill while he was leading the Mountaineers to another perfect WVC season and District 2 Class 2A championship.
“It’s something I’ve been craving for probably three years,” Zardecki said of the District 2 Class 2A gold medal he captured Oct. 25 on the Lakeland High School. “I lost it last year by (six) seconds.
“I was just kind of hungry to come back and show that I was a district champ.”
The district title was one of the many credentials Zardecki brought to repeating as Times Leader Runner of the Year.
“That proved a lot for me,” Zardecki said. “I finally got to do that and that was real exciting for me.”
As he savored the win that day, however, Zardecki quickly corrected a reporter who suggested his nearly 11-second win had looked easy while he was completing the 3.1-mile course in 16:18.19.
Zardecki’s senior-year aspirations had led him through a demanding, high-mileage summer. As he would explain in the time after his 13th-place state finish, he may have gone just a bit too far in the delicate balance of trying to push oneself to the limit.
“That district championship was definitely one of my bigger motivations,” Zardecki said in a recent interview. “And, I had a state championship in my mind for a long time. I was chasing that and I think I overdid my training in the summer and that hurt me in the long run.”
Though it didn’t show to those watching or chasing him at Lakeland, Zardecki could sense there was trouble ahead.
“The last two meets of the season, I was beat up,” said Zardecki, who went unbeaten against District 2 competition until teammate Mitchell Rome finished one spot ahead of him as both medaled at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Championships in Hershey Nov. 4. “My legs were really tired and I could not run like I really wanted to.
“At districts, I felt like garbage and in a workout before states, I didn’t feel that great.”
Zardecki said he’s happy now that he was still able to perform as well as he did while claiming a third straight state medal and helping his team to a fourth-place finish. He said it is time “to shrug it off and move on to the next chapter.”
College visits followed the high school season and Zardecki still has 3,200-meter run titles to pursue during track and field season in the spring.
Soon, Zardecki will be choosing where to continue his education and running career. He made official recruiting visits to Pittsburgh, Providence, Duquesne, Army West Point and the Air Force Academy.
Dallas coach Matt Samuel is not surprised to see Zardecki on the brink of competing at the highest level collegiately.
“He takes it very, very seriously,” Samuel said. “He’s very involved in the sport.”
Zardecki opened his senior season by repeating his title in the Cliff Robbins Invitational, continued it by finishing first in every WVC cluster meet on the Dallas schedule and then repeated an Ed Narkiewicz Wyoming Valley Conference Championship meet title, all before getting to the coveted district gold medal.
In his high school, he has shared four straight unbeaten WVC seasons, the two state team titles and four finishes among the top eight teams in the state with his Mountaineers teammates.
“I spent most of my time with them the last four years,” he said. “We put in a lot of time; a lot of miles.”
Together, they were part of what Zardecki said he is beginning to realize was a special run in WVC cross country history. He is thankful to have been part of it.
“I’m starting to realize how truly grateful I am being able to do those things, being able to be healthy and having a great career overall,” Zardecki said. “I’ve had great training partners and I can’t thank people enough for what they’ve given up for me, my parents especially.”