By Dave Mast
For an entire season, Darian Pacula of Hiland had honed his running skills, prepaRing for the Div. III District meet Saturday, Oct. 129 at Cambridge High school.
His goal was simple: Secure one of the top 16 spots and advance to the Regional meet the next weekend.
As he rounded the 270 degree turn which leads to a short straight stretch before3 the final uphill ascent, he worked his way past a runner in a group of around five competitors.
“I knew I was close,” said Pacula of that final 16th spot.
Now head to head with Matt Zwick of Caldwell, the two went at it. Suddenly another runner, Garaway’s Samuel Wentworth, came barreling past both runners as the gave their all up that final hill.
Wentworth would pull away, Zwick would inch forward, and Pacula would cross the finish line hoping it was enough.
At the end of a cross country race, officials give each other a small slip of paper with their finish written on it.
Pacula wasn’t sure whether he wanted to look or not.
He stole a glace.
There, written in ink, was the number 17, the unkindest of all numbers when it comes to this race.
His dreams of a Regional appearance in this, his final year were gone
“It’s disappointing for sure,” said Pacula following the race. “They kept telling me my place throughout the race, and that helped keep me pushing hard. It just wasn’t enough.”
Hiland coach Fowler couldn’t hide the pain, a pain which he felt for his senior runner knowing that he had worked so hard for this moment.
“My heart breaks for him,” said Fowler of Pacula. “Normally I am pretty upbeat, but I can’t even begin to hide the pain.”
Fowler did say that Pacula’s first words out of his mouth after finding out his fate were that he would at least have this spring to perhaps earn a date at Regionals in the track season.
Plus, Pacula was able to keep things in perspective.
“If I ever coach a cross country team down the road, I will always have this story to tell them,” he said with a smile.
As for the other Hawks, three of them also wound down their final cross country run of their careers.
Creed Hochstetler earned a 47th with a time of 19:47.9, finally crashing through the 20 minute barrier.
“I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted after a race,” said Hochstetler. “I left it all out there.”
Fellow senior Kyle Troyer brought the crowd near the finish line to a roar when he put on an amazing kick down the stretch, driving past several runners to finish 63rd in 21:19.9.
“I realized it was my last cross country race, so let’s just see what I can do,” said Troyer, who didn’t take up cross country until his junior year.
“I know you’re supposed to keep up an average pace and not sprint like that at the end, but that is how I like to do it,” said Troyer. “I never really figured out my pace through the whole season, so I ended up just sprinting a lot at the end.”
Morgan Gingerich also ended his career with a time of 24:04, not bad for a guy who simply uses the season to stay in shape for track season. Rounding out the team was sophomore Brady Conn, who ran to the tune of 20:02.2, just missing breaking 20 minutes.
That 51st place finish helped Hiland to an eighth place finish in the 10-team field.
It was the best season Hiland’s boys have ever had, but the heartbreaking near-miss by Pacula certainly put a damper on any kind of celebration.
“As sad as it sounds, you probably would rather finish back farther than missing by one place like that,” said Fowler. “It’s tough to take, especially when you’re a senior.”
The Hiland girls had only two runners in the girls race. Sophomore Nikita Engstrom fought off tendinitis in her knee, and put forth a super effort in finishing in 24:20, good for 44th. Teammate madison Anderson also fought through an injury finishing in 60th place in 30:10.