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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
ad the team.