Wallenpaupack Area's Rachel Schmalzle will be the lone representative of local schools at this year's PIAA State Cross Country Championships. The Lady Buckhorn senior is making her fourth consecutive appearance at the meet. Meanwhile, Honesdale's girls fell short in a quest to defend their Class AAA crown.

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, there’s no doubt that cross country is the most unforgiving of all scholastic sports seasons.

Local runners begin the campaign sweating in late summer heat. They then close it out on days very much like Wednesday: shivering among early winter snow flurries.

This year’s District Two Cross Country Championships were held once again at Scranton’s Municipal Golf Course. More than 40 schools from all over the region competed at the annual event, which marks the official end of the season.

A handful or teams and individual runners will advance to the PIAA State Championships; but, for the vast majority...well, this is the last hurrah. On Wednesday, two fascinating subplots dominated the pre-race story. And, both involved Wayne County teams.

The first of these two subplots was Rachel Schmalzle’s pursuit of a gold medal in Class AAA.
Schmalzle burst onto the local cross country scene in 2005 as a wide-eyed frosh. Rachel came out of nowhere to take second and earn the first of what would be four trip to States.

Each year, Schmalzle has entered the D-2 race as a favorite to win...and each year she’s finished second. Four years, four silver medals.

Wednesday’s second subplot was Honesdale’s quest to defend its Class AAA team title. A year ago, the Lady Hornets shocked everyone...including, perhaps themselves...by winning a District Two championship.

Honesdale’s front line consisted entirely of freshmen and sophomores. The Red & Black stunned perennial powerhouses like Scranton Prep and Abington Heights en route to an unlikely crown.

While the Lady Hornets did indeed work hard preparing to defend their crown, clouds were gathering on the horizon.

Kourtney Brussell suffered a pair of stress fractures and never really got going in ‘08.
Abington knocked Honesdale from its perch atop the Lackawanna League’s Division One standings. Both the Comets and Wyoming Valley Conference champion Dallas finished ahead of the Red & Black at an invitational late in the season.

So, for Rachel Schmalzle to break her personal drought and for the Lady Hornets to defend their crown, everything had to fall perfectly into place.Sadly for local cross country fans, that never happened.

Silver Lining
Rachel Schmalzle is legendary for her rigorous workout regimen. Paupack’s senior will train regardless of bad weather, illness or injury.

“Rachel is a role model for every kid on this team,” Coach John Tintle told TWI Sports. “She is absolutely the hardest worker I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”

Schmalzle dominated nearly every Lackawanna League race in which she competed this fall. Rachel won at home and on the road. She sliced chunks of time of her own personal bests and, in the process shattered course records all across Division One.

On Wednesday afternoon, all of that was forgotten. Schmalzle arrived at the starting line with one goal in mind: winning a race she’d never won.Despite a bitter north wind and typical wintry conditions, Rachel looked good throughout most of the race.

Scranton Municipal’s course features rolling hills, gentle inclines and long straightaways. It is a fair course since none of the teams competing can run on its during the regular season. However, very few scholastic runners rate it as one of their favorites...especially on a day when the wind is howling and snow flurries flying.

“This is a challenging course and it’s definitely not one of my personal favorites,” Schmalzle said with a laugh. “Especially on a cold day like this. It’s so hard running into the wind.”

Rachel came off the starting line strong and immediately found her way to the front of the pack. She was joined there by Crestwood’s Kristin Schafer and a trio of Hazleton runners. One by one, members of that trio faded away leaving Schafer and Schmalzle all alone to face the wind...and one another.

Schafer is just a freshman, but already among the WVC’s elite runners. She helped pace the Comets to the Division One title with a 12-4 overall record. On this particular day, these two runners went toe-to-toe for the first two miles. Then, with just over a mile to go, Schafer made her move.

Kristen pulled ahead and never looked back. All Rachel could do was watch as the gap widened and soon became insurmountable.

“I tried to stay with her as long as I could, but she ran a great race and I couldn’t catch her,” said Schmalzle.

Schafer broke the tape in a time of 19:21. That was good for a comfortable cushion over Paupack’s star runner. Schmalzle covered the 3.1-mile course in 19:50, nearly 20 seconds better than the first of her Hazleton pursuers.

“I ran the best race I could possibly have run and she beat me,” Rachel said. “That’s the best time I’ve ever run here, so I’m pretty happy. My main goal all season was to get to States again and I accomplished that. Now, I’m going to focus on winning a medal there.”

Red, Black & Blue
It was obvious almost from the start of Wednesday’s race that Honesdale might be in for a long day. While Erin Craig calmly went about the business of leading the Lady Hornet swarm, things weren’t going as well for several of her teammates.

Craig glided across the damp Scranton Muni course en route to a Top 10 finish in Class AAA. Erin stopped the clock at 20:49, good for 10th in the standings.

“There are an awful lot of teams out there with at least one or two very good runners,” said Coach Joe Macey. “And, Erin more than held her own with them. She and Megan Davis had an excellent year. Both of them seemed to get stronger as the season progressed.”

Davis struggled, especially in the last stages of the race. A junior who normally finishes first or second for the Red & Black, Megan fell to sixth Wednesday. She posted a time of 21:59 and still managed a 35th place overall finish.

This bit of bad news was tempered by a stellar performance from Corina Robbins. Another member of a talented junior class, Robbins jumped all the way up to second on the team. She crossed the line in 21:16, good for 20th place in the Class AAA standings.

Corina was chased home by  teammates Sienna George, Kristen Propst and Lucie Henry. George, one of two seniors on the squad, sprinted her way to a 23rd place finish. Sienna came home in 21:23. Propst, a junior, posted a time of 21:44 and snagged the 31st position. Henry shut off Honesdale’s scoring with a 33rd place finish. Lucie’s time was 21:53.

Randi Jo Kowalczyk made her presence felt in a bit way as well. Just a sophomore, RJ turned in a Top 40 performance. Her time of 22:07 earned Kowalczyk 37th place.

As anticipated, Dallas Area and Abington Heights proved to be Honesdale’s main foes. The Mounties and Comets had both  given the Lady Hornets fits on the invitational scene. In addition, Abington won the Division One girls title in Lackawanna League action.

At Districts, Dallas carved out a pair of spots in the Top 10. The Mounties placed all five of their runners among the first 30 en route to a solid win.

Dallas compiled just 82 team points on the day, while Hones-dale finished a distant second with 117. Abington Heights was third (123 pts), just barely edging out Holy Redeemer (124).

“We’ve known since about the middle of September that we were a little bit behind the curve with Dallas,” Coach Macey said. “We just didn’t seem to have the same kind of leg turnover until the second half of the season. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late to catch up.”
Paupack finished 14th in a 17-team field with 329 points.