Lake-Lehman finished just ahead of Back Mountain rival Dallas to win last season’s Wyoming Valley Conference regular-season title and this season’s opening Cliff Robbins Sr. Memorial Invitational championship.
With a deep, balanced and experienced lineup off to a fast start this season, coach John Sobocinski is hoping to add an accomplishment that has been missing for the past decade.
“Our goal last year was to get to states as a team,” Sobocinski said. “We did win the conference, which is nice to do and also a goal.
“But the ultimate goal is the team berth at states and we fell short.”
Even with two spots where Sobocinski has reason to expect improvement later in the season, the Black Knights beat Dallas, 82-94, for first place of 15 Robbins teams, then topped Wyoming Valley West and Tunkhannock by 15-50 scores Wednesday to open defense of their conference title.
Nine different schools got runners to the finish line before Lake-Lehman at the Robbins Invitational, but the Black Knights had all seven of their runners finish with 1:38 of each other, at least 57 seconds better than every other team in that category.
Lake-Lehman had the top five places in Wednesday’s tri-meet, with those runners finishing with 49 seconds of each other.
Jade Fry, the team’s top runner the last two seasons, qualified for the 2015 state meet by finishing eighth in the District 2 Class AA meet. She was 17th out of 148 runners at the Robbins, placing behind teammate Jace Garnick, then led the way in the conference opener.
Fry is not yet at full strength, working her way back from an injury that Sobocinski said led to consideration of not having her run at the Robbins Meet at Misericordia University’s Letterkenny Fields Sept. 3.
“If she can get healthy, her goal was to mix it up with the top girls in the whole district,” Sobocinski said.
Lake-Lehman returns six of its seven runners from the team that placed fourth in the district championships.
Garnick, a junior, was fourth in the WVC opener.
Juniors Olivia Vasey and Krystin Chaga and sophomore Lauryn Pembleton were in the team’s top five at last year’s district meet while senior Kara Martin was also part of the seven-runner lineup that included Fry and Garnick.
Pembleton and Vasey were third and fourth at the Robbins, followed by sophomore Julia Sabol, Chaga and Martin.
Chaga was second, Martin third and Pembleton fifth in Wednesday’s tri-meet.
Sobocinski expects more help to be on the way. He thinks sophomore Mackenzie Fleeger can crack the scoring lineup as she continues her adjustment to distance runner.
“She came out for track last spring,” he said. “She was on our sprint relay team. We found that she has a little something that I didn’t really foresee.
“We’re excited to have her on our team.”
Lake-Lehman and Dallas are likely to battle again – at the top of the WVC standings and in the conference and district championship meets.
An otherwise young Mountaineers lineup is led by senior Riley Oremus and junior Rebecca Balara, a returning state medalist.
Balara was 21st in the state in Class AA while helping the team to a ninth-place finish.
Even with Balara resting an injury, Dallas was second in the Robbins with the help of a 10th-place finish by Oremus.
Freshmen Megan Borton and Madison Baloga were 19th and 21st. Junior Abby Zolner, a state medalist swimmer who is on the team for the first time, was the team’s fourth runner.
Dallas also returns Beth Grose, Grace Jarden, Samantha Sorokin and Maxine Derome from last season’s postseason lineup.
The Mountaineers also opened 2-0 in the WVC, with Oremus finishing first in a 15-48 victory over Wyoming Area and 15-50 forfeit over Wyoming Seminary.
Tunkhannock did not have the five runners needed for a team score and lost to Lake-Lehman and Wyoming Valley West, 15-50.
Reach the Dallas Post newsroom at 570-675-5211 or by email at email@example.com.