BRONX, NEW YORK — Damien Dilcher never lost faith in himself this season and his faith paid off at the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Saturday.
The Brick senior placed second among 179 runners in the Nov. 25 event with a time of 15:37, securing a trip to the Foot Locker National Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego on Saturday, Dec. 9.
He is the first runner from Ocean County to qualify for the national championships, but he is not alone. Point Boro junior Devin Hart will also advance to San Diego after finishing sixth in the regional qualifier.
It was also the first time in Dilcher’s cross-country career that he finished ahead of Hart.
“I was not even predicted top 20 and I came out to show everyone I’m not done and I am still here. A lot of people call me a fluke and inconsistent, but a lot plays into running that they don’t know about, so to go out and prove the sleepers wrong was a big accomplishment,” Dilcher said “It feels good to at least beat him [Hart] once because I do feel like I am on the same level as him and I can compete with him on any given day, if I am feeling good.”
Dilcher did not feel like himself in the two weeks leading up to the regional race. His state season did not end the way he wanted it to as he suffered from an upper respiratory infection in his sixth-place finish in the Group III Championships at Holmdel Park In Holmdel on Saturday, Nov. 11.
He felt better the following week but could still feel the effects from the cold in the later stages of the race. He took 31st where Hart came across the finish line in first to win the Meet of Champions title on Saturday, Nov. 18. During the race, Dilcher felt he could make a push, but eventually fell off on the last mile.
In the qualifier, Dilcher made the same decision to push toward the front and this time it payed off. With a mile left, he challenged Tristan Shelgran of Massachusetts. Shelgran regained the lead quickly and made a kick for the finish, taking first at 15:32.80.
Just five seconds later Hart crossed the finish line at 15:42.50 after out sprinting senior Drew Thompson, of Connecticut, for sixth place. Hart eyed a top 10 finish coming into the event, but had been projected as a potential winner.
He got off to a rough start right out of the starting line as he fought for a top 10 spot in the early stages. Hart dropped to the back of the pack and had a lot of ground to cover.
“I was probably in about 40th place at one point,” Hart said. “I had to work my way up through these narrow paths in like the back part of the course. That took a lot out of me.”
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