It’s often lonely at the top.
That became clear to Dominic Deluca as he continued to run further and further from the rest of the field while climbing his way to the top of the state.
Such isolation could be a problem in the woods of cross country courses, where competitors often depend on each other to push for faster times and a stronger pace. And as he flew through his senior season basically unchallenged, Deluca figured out how to run his own race.
He picked his spots.
“I’d pick points on the course, rather than have the strategy, ‘I’ve got to stay with this guy,’ ” Deluca said. “Even though I wasn’t really running against anybody, it was more an overall preparation in the work I do. Keep dropping the clutch and keep going forward.”
Deluca went undefeated through his senior season, all the way to a PIAA Class 2A boys cross country championship while running away with the Times Leader boys runner of the year award.
He finished first in every race he ran this season, winning most by a half-minute or more while capturing the Wyoming Valley Conference and District 2 Class 2A titles. Then, with a pace of 5:16, Deluca breezed to the state title in 16:21, besting his good friend and Back Mountain rival Dominic Hockenbury of Lake-Lehman by 15 seconds.
“My coaches really prepared me for that,” Deluca said. “We knew there wasn’t going to be much competition through to the state meet. I’d always be planning ahead, preparing in races. Not everyone has to do that when they’re working out.”
Not everyone stays out in front from beginning to end in every race they run, either.
“He dedicated himself very early on, since last year,” Dallas coach Matt Samuel said of Deluca. “Something inside him clicked, and he decided to set his sights on some pretty lofty goals. He did everything he could as far as training — sleeping, eating, training — he did everything correctly.
“It’s easy to say, but it’s pretty hard to do,” Samuel continued. “There’s always the temptation to take off during the summer and enjoy yourself. There aren’t a lot of days he really took off. He dedicated himself to it.
“That’s how you end up a state champion.”
For awhile, Deluca thought he’d end up on the soccer field.
He spent most of his youth playing soccer, until runners and coaches on the Dallas cross country team talked him into giving a new sport a try as a sophomore.
The son of Vito and Maria Deluca of West Pittston took to it.
“I’m really just sort of loving the individual aspect of it,” said Dominic Deluca, 17, who will run for Cornell University next season. “You don’t have to worry about anyone else but yourself. The work you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. It’s opened so many doors, just changed my life in general.”
Not that his mindset of being part of a team has changed much.
Deluca said he’s most proud of leading his Dallas boys team through an unbeaten regular season and helping the Mountaineers surge past eventual state team champ Tunkhannock and capture their fourth straight Wyoming Valley Conference team championship at the annual Ed Narkiewicz meet.
“Just seeing my whole team come together and run really well, I can’t tell you what that feels like,” Deluca said. “We really weren’t expected to do that.”
Deluca showed Dallas the way.
He won the individual Nakiewicz meet title with a time of 15:59, and followed that by winning the District 2 gold medal by nearly 30 seconds with a time of 15:53.
Through it all, though, Deluca never seemed overly content — with his finish or his time.
“He’s never satisfied,” Samuel said.
“I forget who said it, but there’s a saying, ‘Those who are satisfied never advance,’” Deluca said. “When someone achieves satisfaction, you don’t strive for anything. The way I’ve approached it is, you can always do better. I do enjoy the moment. But when the day’s over, you have to step back and realize you’re not perfect. I did come in first, but there were things I had to work on.”
Even if he had to spend endless hours — and most of his high school races this season — working on them by himself.
“It’s a good feeling to know all the hard work has paid off,” Deluca said.
That work included a steady diet of rigorous offseason runs that included a signficant mileage boost which strengthened Deluca’s mental toughness. And left him alone at the top.
“It’s just staying focused and determined — over the past year of training, that’s where I really developed it,” Deluca said. “On rainy days, snowy days, still getting out and running and working out. I took a big risk.
“I think I got a pretty good reward out of it.”