A year ago, Dylan Throop surrounded himself with some of the best distance runners in northwestern Pennsylvania and the entire commonwealth, running his way to a Class AA top 10 finish in Hershey.
Thus far this season, the General McLane junior has been virtually alone, dominating fields and handling tricky course conditions with relative ease as he prepares for another lofty finish in the state final.
"He's an incredibly disciplined runner and a hard worker," General McLane coach John Guzik said. "Getting him to focus in training has never been a challenge. He has the talent to be able to always work hard, if you would consider that a talent.
"His goals motivate him. He's focused, but he's also patient. He's willing to do the work and go through what he has to go through to get there."
On Nov. 3, 2018, the then-sophomore was one of three Lancers to climb onto the podium as Class AA medalists, joining 2019 graduates Nate Price (3rd) and Erik Andrzejewski (13th). Guzik believes the experience of being a teammate of the now collegiate runners at Brown and Edinboro, respectively, was instrumental in Throop's development.
"When people ask me why Dylan does so well, the first thing that comes to mind is he had two awesome training partners through his whole career on the team," he said of Price and Andrzejewski. "That's indispensable to be surrounded by guys who can train at that level and have a tight group like that. And of course, District 10 is always super competitive so you never get a break from facing a challenge from Saturday to Saturday."
With three other runners in the top 15 last year, led by state champion Jonah Powell of Grove City, the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania had almost half of the top group.
"What I noticed from running against them was they really had a truly consistent race, where they could be running together as a pack, all of them running the exact same splits, but once the last mile came it was whoever could have a better finish," Throop said of his district competitors in 2018. "They were all really good runners, but whenever one felt they could do something incredible that day, they did it.
"Whether it was Nate or Jonah or Ryan (Starvaggi), I just learned so much from all of them, just following in their footsteps, especially Nate and Erik who I really learned a lot through over the years."
At last weekend's Rocky Grove Invitational, Throop handled very slippery course conditions with relative ease, topping the field by almost a minute. His coach said the 5-foot-3 junior who tips the scale at about 100 pounds rarely has difficulty on muddy, demanding layouts.
"I think Dylan's suited to challenging courses because he's athletic, he's light and he's super nimble," Guzik said. "That, combined with his fitness and his tactical sense, really pays off, and you can see it in the results."
The winner in each of his meets except for one, Throop believes his runner-up finish at the McQuaid Invitational to Sam Lawlor, New York's top harrier this fall and a Foot Locker finalist in 2018, is an indication that he is headed in the right direction.
"I really, really want to qualify for Finals this year, and just being able to take second behind him, that really just tells me that I can do it," Throop said of his ultimate XC goal. "If I just keep on training smart and keep on pushing myself, perhaps I can even be a finalist at Foot Locker this year and most definitely next year. It just tells me that I'm really achieving my goals, especially this year."
From a senior-dominated final last year, Throop is the three highest finisher back for another run at AA medals in Hershey. The other top finishers from a year ago with at least one more shot at the Parkview Course include senior Garrett Baublitz (2nd) of Juniata, sophomore Jacob Hess (7th) of Lewisburg and senior Ben Kuhn (9th) of Wyomissing. Heading into district action, Baublitz, Throop and Kuhn have the three fastest times this year in AA, while Hess is No. 6.
In almost every race, and specifically the PIAA final, the General McLane junior knows a better start is key for him. His standing (29th) at the mile mark was the farthest back in the field of any of the top 12 finishers in last year's AA race. A mile later, he had moved up to 13th.
"I would like to say that I do (have speed) but it is a struggle for me, especially at states, in order to shimmy my way up there," Throop said of being swallowed up by faster starters in a 5K race. "The height and the weight, it does really help me because I always like to say they don't see me coming. And I guess that's really true. I'm able to jostle my way through a lot of competitors just because of how skinny I am.
"I hope to one day be able to incorporate the speed element, and I can just sprint all the way to the front right at the beginning. Maybe I'll see that this year but at least the last two years I really had to fight my way up there. I'm willing to do it this year if I have to."