Wallenpaupack Area's girls varsity cross country team finished second in Class AAA.
DIMOCK — There's just no other way to say it: Conditions were miserable at this year's District Two Cross Country Championships.
Following nearly two solid days of soaking rain, Elk Lake's already challenging 3.1-mile course had been rendered nearly impassable. And yet somehow D-2 officials decided everything was good to go.
Regan Rome, one of the best distance runners in the entire Commonwealth would beg to differ. At the conclusion of the girls Class AA race ... a race she ran away with for the third straight year ... Rome was quick to offer up an opinion.
A junior from Dallas Area, Regan stopped the clock at 20:17. She fended off an early challenge from Holy Redeemer's Rachel Sowinski to win by a full 30 seconds.
"I cannot believe how bad the conditions are," Rome said, a bemused smile on her mud-spattered face. "To say that running here today was a challenge doesn't even begin to describe it. I'm just glad it's over and I can move on."
While Holy Redeemer and Dallas battled right down to the wire in Class AA, Wallenpaupack Area came within seconds of orchestrating the day's biggest upset in Class AAA.
The Lady Bucks put together their best performance of the season and very nearly captured team title as a result. Paupack grabbed five spots among the Top 15 and wound up only seven points behind champion Hazleton Area.
"I've talked before about this group and what they mean to me personally," Coach Dan Nalesnik said.
"Our girls went out there and ran with the most guts I've ever seen. The conditions here were terrible, but they didn't let that get into their heads. I'm extremely proud of this team. You just can't measure heart and these girls have incredible heart."
Tale of the Tape
Abington Heights had been a prohibitive favorite to win the Class AAA.
However, a combination of factors doomed the Lady Comets to third place at districts after going undefeated (17-0 ) in the Lackawanna League. Top runner Tessa Barrett surged to an early lead, but was forced to drop out just past the one mile marker.
Hazleton, a team out of the Wyoming Valley Conference, catapulted four of its first five runners into the Top 10 and posted an overall team score of 46. Paupack's inspired effort resulted in runner-up status, just seven points back (53).
Wyoming Valley West (88) and Williamsport Area (137) rounded out the front five.
Alyssa LaFave led the way for Paupack. A freshman who missed a big chunk of the season due to injury, LaFave came out of nowhere to claim a Top 10 place in the Class AAA race.
She clocked in at 22:22, good for 7th overall, a district medal and a trip to Hershey.
LaFave suffered her injury during the spring's junior high track season.
She wasn't able to run at all during the summer and was limited to low-impact training as cross country campaign opened. Nevertheless, she dug down deep and authored an unforgettable performance when it mattered most.
"I always knew that Alyssa had this kind of performance in her," Coach Nalesnik said.
"But, it's been a rough year for her. Alyssa hasn't been able to train with the team much because of her hip and to see her come out here on this kind of day and run like that is pretty amazing."
Four other Lady Bucks cracked the Top 15, helping catapult Paupack to its runner-up finish: Taylor Maxson (10th, 23:05); Hannah Stack (11th, 23:21); Deirdre Schmidt (12th, 23:23); Haley Miller (13th, 23:26).
Taylor is another Lady Buck who battled adversity all season. Maxson was saddled with a nagging IT-Band injury and fought it from August to October.
"Taylor is a tough, tough kid," Coach Nalesnik said. "She has so much pain that she sometimes struggles to get dressed in the morning. She was looking at this as possibly her last race and she wanted to go out on a high note. She absolutely did."
Rounding out the Purple People assault were seniors Stevie Lis (24th, 24:47) and Erika Maxson (26th, 25:14).
"Over the last six years, I've formed a very special bond with these girls," an emotionally drained Coach Nalesnik said.
"I've seen all their hard work and what they're willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. I can say with absolute certainty that our girls wanted this more than anybody else out there."