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Daddario takes his turn in the winner’s circle

Sweet Home senior Mitch Daddario has always been there competing with the best distance runners, looking to make a name by trying to beat the biggest one out there.

He didn’t beat TJ Hornberger with a Section VI indoor track and field championship on the line, but was right there nipping at his heels as the runner-up in the 1,600-meter race during the 2013 and 2014 meets.

Hornberger’s currently at Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship, so Daddario is now the one who casts the huge shadow that engulfs area competition. The future Lehigh University runner has posted the best times in Western New York in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races as the season hits the home stretch.

“He’s really competitive,” Panthers coach Brian Lombardo said. “As good as TJ Hornberger was, he was always the kid who would show up and race him. Some other kids would hold him up on a pedestal. Mitch didn’t care if he was racing TJ. He wanted to beat him. Mitch would go after him. There are a lot of people who felt if TJ was in the race, he would win the race. Mitch would go after him. I think that’s helping him now, keeping him pushing his goals forward.”

Daddario recently helped the Panthers capture the Varsity Team Challenge by winning the 1,600, taking second in the 1,000 and by running on the victorious 4x800 relay team along with Chris Nowak, Will Schultz and Kevin Terragnoli. That came two days after Daddario set his personal-best time of 4:16.76 at the Brockport Invitational two and a half weeks ago. That’s the top time in the nation among scholastic competitors in the event, according to ny.milesplit.com.

“It definitely feels good,” Daddario said. “TJ was a good person to look up to and push you training. There’s still very good competition in the section. But it’s nice,” not having to chase TJ this year.

Daddario’s time in the 1,600 not only is nearly 12 seconds faster than his next closest competitor, Steven Neumaier of Lancaster, but is also just two seconds off the longtime Section VI record set by Frontier’s Nick LaRosa. Daddario’s time in the 3,200 of 9:37.0 is more than 21 seconds quicker than his next closest competitor.

“He’s never been afraid to compete,” Lombardo said. That’s good, since Daddario will be the hunted.

Daddario won the Section VI Class B cross country championship last fall. It was the first time he won an individual sectional title after having helped the Panthers’ 4x800 win the indoor title last season. The cross country crown also helped Sweet Home win the sectional championship in Class B.

“I really liked winning the cross country titles team wise and 4x800 because you have guys around you putting in the work with you,” Daddario said. “But obviously the individual title is good, too.”

Of course it is. It’s a form of validation for a Division I running signee to have an individual championship on his or her resume. It’s something Daddario would like to do again, but that’s not the only euphoria Daddario wants to experience before graduation.

“I want to win another individual title, another 4x800, section record and I’d like to see if I have a shot at a state title, put myself in the mix. State title would be awesome. It’s just a classic honor. It’s just a great honor to even compete for one.”

He has a great chance at doing that and possibly putting up a number next month as for the first time, the Section VI championships will be held at the Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex at Houghton College. The track at this new facility not only allows competitors to wear spikes, unlike the previous host facility at Fredonia State, the track itself is bigger (200 meters compared to 160), which makes it more conducive for runners to go faster.

Daddario, like most of his Section VI competitors, can’t wait to participate in the Feb. 20 meet.

“I think all across the board there are going to be faster times,” Daddario said. “I think going the route to Houghton is a better move.”

Before that meet, though, there’s a chance he’ll be able to participate in a more prestigious meet. On Friday, Daddario will find out if his time of 4:22 and third-place showing at the Millrose Games trials is good enough to earn him a spot in the Feb. 14 event. During trials, he beat the defending state champion. The state champion from Pennsylvania placed first at trials.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com