HERSHEY — From the beginning, they were wearing the biggest targets, hunted the heaviest and chased the most.
Because Ally Rome and Dominic Hockenbury spent their whole senior seasons as the runners everyone else was trying to catch.
In the end, no one ever did.
Rome cracked open a tight race at the end, Hockenbury finally cracked the 16-minute mark and both defended their Class 2A state cross country titles Saturday at the Parkview Cross Country Course, bringing another badge of honor to the Back Mountain with two straight state championships to finish their high school careers.
“It feels better this time around,” Hockenbury said. “Because I beat the time I wanted.”
The Lake-Lehman senior beat everyone else to the finish line while leading from beginning to end to win the boys Class 2A race in 15:49 to out-distance runner-up Zach Skolnekovich of Quaker Valley by five seconds.
Rome’s race was a little more taxing.
She ran neck-and-neck with Scranton Prep’s Erin Feeney for the majority of the girls Class 2A race, but finally broke free down the homestretch to finish in 18:30 while Feeney finished in 18:49.
“This isn’t the kind of sport you just pick up,” Rome said. “It’s year round. My whole season’s been geared for this. It’s something you can’t describe, seeing your hard work pay off like that.”
It’s also a feat that’ll be tough to duplicate.
Hockenbury became Lehman’s first repeat state champion, and could very well wind up as the school’s last – at least for a long while.
“Just to repeat as District (2) champ was tough,” Lake-Lehman coach John Sobocinski said. “To win another state title, I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again at Lake-Lehman.”
Dallas saw something new too, when Rome became the school’s first back-to-back girls state cross country champion.
“This is tremendous,” Dallas coach Matt Samuel said. “It’s an unbelievable accomplishment for our school, our program, and most importantly for Ally. Ally Rome is one of a kind. This speaks to the dedication of Ally.
“She’s just a special athlete.”
It was made more special to both because they met all the pressure-packed expectations placed upon them by winning states as juniors.
“It felt like I was expected to do this,” Hockenbury said. “I went through a situation similar to this in state track. Coming in as the defending state champion, I thought I was kind of expected to be able to take the state championship again. I was expected to win. I didn’t have to change anything, didn’t have to try anything new, just come in and do what I usually do.”
He did use some strategy, though, going out ahead of the pack – and running a lonesome race throughout when nobody caught up.
“The plan was to go out really hard, just to get out of the pack and make sure there aren’t any trip-ups,” said Hockenbury, who committed on Friday to run collegiately at Syracuse next season. “It was a fast pace right from the start. I wanted to go out there hard and take the legs out from everybody.”
Rome also used some strategy to pull a second straight gold medal out of the Hershey course. But she made her move at the end, rather than the beginning.
“I felt good,” said Rome, who wound up as a four-time state cross country medalist. “It was a tough race. Erin (Feeney) gave me a pretty good fight. I went out faster than I wanted to, just from being excited. My plan was to try and pick it up – I think it was when we came off the hills and we were on the trail. maybe 2 1/2 (miles in). I felt pretty strong finishing.”
And those fast finishes ended the high school cross country careers of Hockenbury and Rome in spectacular fashion.
“It means so much to me,” Rome said. “There was more pressure coming back (as defending champion).
“It’s an amazing feeling to come back and repeat.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski