DIMOCK — Summer Hill's mouth gaped open as she emerged from the treeline and began the long slog uphill.
One of the best runners in Honesdale cross country history was struggling ... and understandably so.
After nearly two solid days of rain, conditions at Elk Lake High School in Dimock for the District Two Cross Country Championships were appalling.
Mud at the starting line was so deep that shoes were quite literally sucked right off runners' feet. There was standing water three inches deep in places and negotiating a slippery, serpentine path through the woods was a treacherous proposition.
"I've never seen anything like this," Hill said afterward. "I couldn't believe how muddy and wet it was. I mean, it was the same for everybody, but ... wow, it was so tough out there."
Summer lives in northern Wayne County and trains in the Equinunk area. She's used to mountainous terrain. However, she labored up that last long incline Wednesday where every stride was painful and the finish line seemed about 100 miles away.
"I'm very proud of Summer," Coach Lindsey Pender said. "This was the last race of her high school career and she had to reach down really deep inside to do what she did."
What she did was finish 6th overall in the Class AAA girls race, an herculean effort that earned her another District Two medal and a 4th consecutive trip to states.
"There's no doubt about it now: Summer is one of the very best cross country runners ever to come through Honesdale," Coach Pender said. "We're going to be talking about her accomplishments for a very long time."
Hill covered the hellish 3.1-mile layout is a time of 21:47 ... nowhere near her best time of the season ... but, near-miraculous when weather conditions are factored in. She now moves on to the PIAA Championships, which are slated for Friday, November 2nd at the Parkview Course in Hershey.
There, Summer will once again go head-to-head with her archrival, Regan Rome.
Rome captured the overall crown for a third straight year. 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 Rome finished first, the same can't be said for her team. In what many consider an upset, Holy Redeemer claimed the girls Class AA team title. With Sowinski leading the way as runner-up, the Royals accumulated 50 points, three less than the Mountaineers.
Page 2 of 3 - Lackawanna League powerhouse Scranton Prep finished third (97 pts), while North Pocono (110) and Honesdale (127) rounded out the front five.
"I have all the respect in the world for these girls," Coach Pender said. "They worked hard all year and gave it there all here today. We didn't win, but considering the conditions and the competition, I think they did an amazing job."
Individually, the front five were: Regan Rome, Dallas (20:17); Rachel Sowinski, Redeemer (20:47); Marisso Durako, Redeemer (20:59); Maggie Toczko, Tunkhannock (21:08); Cassandra Gill, Redeemer (21:31).
Honesdale's girls squad battled its way to a 5th place finish in the Class AA standings.
Hill led the way, but received plenty of support from her teammates.
Haley West and Katie Miller each earned a district medal by placing inside the Top 25. West crossed the line in a time of 23:00, good for 19th. Miller came home in 23:24 and ended up 22nd.
Lindsay Hilton (36th, 24:33); Erin O'Neill (44th, 25:18); Lyndsey Jensen (47th, 25:33); and Kelli Jackson (50th, 25:43) rounded out the Red & Black attack.
"I love these girls," an emotional Hill said, a catch in her throat and a tear in her eye. "I had so much fun this year with them. We've been through just about everything together. I can't even believe that it's over."
While Honesdale was busy chasing a Class AA title, Wallenpaupack Area nearly pulled off the upset of the day in Class AAA.
The Lady Bucks put together their best performance of the season and nearly walked away with the team title. Paupack grabbed five spots among the Top 15 and wound up only seven points behind champion Hazleton Area.
"We set our girls awfully high at the start of the season and to come up just a few points short is tough," Coach Dan Nalesnik said. "We may not have the biggest, strongest or fastest girls around, but you can't measure heart. These girls left it all out there on the course and I couldn't be any prouder of them."
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.
"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).
Page 3 of 3 - Rounding out the Purple People assault were seniors Stevie Lis (24th, 24:47) and Erika Maxson (26th, 25:14).
"It's definitely an emotional day," a raspy-voiced Coach Nalesnik admitted. "This group of seniors is very special. We kind of came up through the ranks together from junior high to varsity and it'll be really hard to say goodbye."
While Paupack is back among the District Two elite, Western Wayne is battling to re-claim its former place atop the cross country world.
The Lady 'Cats entered just two runners in this year's Class AA race, but both of those girls displayed remarkable poise and resilience on a less-than-ideal day.
Leanna O'Hora led the way, covering the course in 26:17 (69th). Olivia Funk battled her way to a time of 29:57 (122nd). O'Hora is a sophomore and Funk a junior. Each also plays varsity tennis and both will be back next fall.
"I have a huge amount of respect for those girls," Coach Justin Collins said. "It's very difficult to balance two varsity sports the way they did this year. Leanna and Olivia worked really hard and they showed a great deal of character."