Still smarting from a preseason groin injury, Regan Rome lined up to begin her final high school girls cross country season and felt as if she limped through an early-season dual meet.
“I’m just getting back now,” she said afterwards. “I’m still running with some pain.”
She nearly lapped the back end of the field.
This is what it has come to for Rome, who has been the Wyoming Valley Conference frontrunner pretty much since she walked into Dallas High School as a freshman.
She’s just about run out of challenges in the league.
“She’s really that good,” Dallas coach Matt Samuel said. “She’s one of the top-rated runners in our country.”
He’s not exaggerating.
Last fall, Rome became the first WVC girls runner in 22 years to make the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships when she finished fourth in the Northeast Regional while running a time of 18:14 in New York. Following a path last carved by former Meyers standout Mary Wazeter in 1980, Rome then placed 19th among 40 of the nation’s top high school runners at the Foot Locker national championships in San Diego.
That came after Rome set the pace for Dallas’ 17-0 league championship season a year ago, and she’s a big reason why the Mountaineers are the preseason favorites to win a team state title.
Add to that Rome’s three District 2 titles - the first two in Class 3A and last year’s Class 2A championship - and her third-place finish in last season’s PIAA Class 2A state field, and it’s easy to see why Rome’s excited about finishing her high school career at Dallas with a flourish.
“It’s my last season here,” said Rome, who has college visits scheduled with William & Mary, Georgetown and Virginia. “I just want to make it the best I can.”
That can be difficult when you’re constantly widening the gap on the rest of the field.
Then again, Rome has been dealing with dusting the competition for so long, she’s grown accustomed to mostly running alone.
“You kind of have to keep pushing, just kind of develop mental toughness,” Rome said. “I’m going in thinking I want to beat a certain time. My teammates are close-ish. And you never know. There are some good girls coming up in the Valley.”
The Mountaineers know just what to expect from their senior standout and unquestioned leader, who can be found prodding, encouraging and inspiring younger teammates hoping to someday follow in her footsteps.
“She’s kept her head,” Samuel said, “she’s humble about things, she’s been a great team leader.”
Which is impressive, considering the pressure that comes from always being the one to beat while endlessly running with the lead.
“Honestly, I think it’s going to be more fun, more enjoyable,” Rome said of her last run through high school. “I have a great team, great coaches. I can only control what I do. I’ve had a great career thus far, can’t complain. I do think my times help push my other teammates. In my four years here, I’ve never had a team work so hard and be so committed.
“I think it’s going to be a fun year.”