HERSHEY — They say there’s strength in numbers.
And when a group of over-achieving Dallas boys banded together, they turned out to be No. 1.
For the first time in school history, Dallas captured a cross country state crown Saturday by finishing with a score of 96 total places to capture the Class 2A overall team crown at the Parkview Cross Country Course.
“You know, these guys went all season dealing with some injuries, some really traumatic stuff,” said an emotional Dallas coach Matt Samuel. “You never win it easy.
“Nothing good is ever easy.”
But this PIAA championship seemed especially difficult to attain.
Dallas did it without star power – or even a front-line finisher.
Sophomore Jack Zardecki turned out to be the team’s only individual state medal winner – and he grabbed the 25th and final spot on the awards stand in the Class 2A field.
“I got the last medal,” Zardecki said. “This is my first time (on the awards stand). Last year, I finished 40th. I’m going home with two state medals,which is an awesome feeling.”
Other Wyoming Valley Conference schools had splashier finishes.
Tunkhannock’s Jacob Toczko placed 11th in the Class 2A boys field with a time of 16:29 and Coughlin’s Franco Balbuena was right behind him at 14th with a time of 16:36. In the girls Class 2A state race, Dallas’ Rebecca Balara earned the No. 21 spot with a time of 19:40.
And, of course, Lake-Lehman’s Dominic Hockenbury and Dallas’ Ally Rome won their second straight state titles in the Class 2A boys and girls races, respectively.
But none of them got the chance to celebrate a state title through teamwork.
Zardecki, Adam Borton, Jason Culp, Stephen Postupak, Mitchell Rome (Ally’s brother), Robert Martin and Josh Jarden did.
They turned out to be the “Super 7” who spearheaded the march to the first-ever state gold medal for the Dallas boys.
“The individual stuff doesn’t matter,” Samuel said, explaining what it takes to claim a PIAA team title. “It matters that you do your best as an individual for our team to do well.”
Actually, Dallas entered the day thinking about being second-best.
“We were going to shoot for runner-up,” Zardecki said. “We didn’t think we had a chance. It was a long-shot.”
His reasoning was simple.
“We came down for pre-states earlier,” Zardecki said. “York Suburban beat us by about 20 points. We figured they were going to be much, much better here. We figured it was going to be too much to make up.”
But the Mountaineers made their move by bunching strong finishes together. They placed five finishers among the state’s top 73 overall and, more importantly, wound up with five Top-35 finishers among the 19 teams that were eligible to run a full lineup at states.
Zardecki placed seventh in the team field, Borton finished ninth, Culp was 15th, followed by Postupak at 31st and Rome at 34th. Those five finishes gave Dallas an accumulation of 96 points, while Martin came in at 56th and Jarden at 90th to back them up.
“The strength of the wolf is in the pack,” Samuel said. “That’s what our guys buy into. They know they need to be close with one another.”
Now, they’ll have a memory to share forever.
And it’ll remain especially vivid to Samuel, the team’s long-time and highly successful coach who finally found the boys state title he’s been searching for.
The closest Dallas came to winning one before Saturday was in 1988, when Samuel’s brother competed on a Dallas team that finished with a PIAA silver medal.
Now Matt Samuel and the Mountaineers have their golden moment in the sun.
“This has been a trying time for me and my family,” Samuel said. “I lost my father this summer. It’s a family thing for all of us. But it’s not about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about having a great team and a great program. The boys, they become an institution. That’s their victory. I’m extremely proud of them.
“That was a gift to me.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski