UPPER PROVIDENCE — During the 2017 fall season, Haverford High sophomore Mike Donnelly earned All-Delco first team honors in cross country.
Grace Forbes, a Strath Haven junior, was given All-Delco honorable mention — in soccer.
When practice for the 2018 fall sports season began in August, Donnelly was back running with his Haverford teammates. They were hoping to become the first Fords team to earn the Delaware County championship.
Forbes spent her summer puzzling over whether she would remain her younger sister Maggie’s soccer teammate or would make the move to becoming a cross country runner.
With Donnelly leading the way, Haverford easily claimed its first Delco Meet team title while Forbes made a statement in her first year as a cross country runner by pacing Haven to the county championship.
For their outstanding performances from the start to the finish of the cross country campaign, Donnelly and Forbes are the Daily Times Cross Country Runners of the Year.
Joining Donnelly on the 2018 All-Delco team are teammates Brendan Campbell, Josh Fingerhut, and Evan Peetros, as well as Sean Garrett of Garnet Valley, Patrick Theveny of Penncrest and Radnor’s Ethan Zeh.
Forbes is joined on the girls All-Delco team by Sophie Cohen of Penncrest, Megan Cook of Upper Darby, Strath Haven’s Paige Day, Christine Mancini and Katie Till of Cardinal O’Hara, and Penn Wood’s Elicia Moore.
Cohen, who is a freshman, Day, a sophomore, and juniors Fingerhut, Garrett, Theveny, and Till are the underclassmen named to the first team. Donnelly, Theveny, and Till picked up first-team honors for the second consecutive year.
The All-Delco team was selected by the Daily Times in consultation with area coaches.
Donnelly started running when he was “fairly young, doing road races and what-not.”
Forbes was the 2018 Daily Times Girls Track Runner of the Year after earning silver medals in the 800-meter run and 4 x 800-meter relay at the PIAA Class AAA Championships in May.
“I was busy this summer balancing working at Springhaven Country Club, training for soccer and cross country, and going on vacations with my family,” Forbes said. “My childhood coach (Glenn Venturini) sent me a letter two weeks before preseason (practice) which sparked my interest in solely running cross country.
“My family and I traveled to Brigantine Beach and I spent the majority of each day there contemplating if I should continue soccer or focus on running. On the last day, I finally made the difficult decision that it would be most beneficial to my happiness and my future if I were to make the switch to cross country.”
A loud roar of approval that August day probably came from Strath Haven coach Bill Coren when he learned of Forbes’ decision.
“I know she missed the girls on the soccer team, including her sister,” Coren said. “But she was such a pleasure to coach. The biggest thing was trying to hold her back on long runs. She was just going too fast, but her quote was always ‘I can’t run any slower than that.’”
Haverford’s second-year coach Harry Green knew what to expect from Donnelly, but he also had to keep him in check at times.
“His lung capacity is off the charts,” Green said. “He just doesn’t get tired. He trains very hard. He’s had setbacks, but he’s learned how to listen to his body, make adjustments, take his foot off the gas when necessary, and stay healthy.”
Forbes made the rest of the state take notice when she finished first at the PIAA Foundation Meet, which was run on the state championship course in Hershey in September.
“I wasn’t used to running such a large number of (training) miles, but I quickly adjusted and thoroughly enjoyed my experience,” she said. “Whenever I was not quite motivated to run, I’d always think of my dad’s saying — ‘any day with a run in it is a good day.’”
Donnelly began the summer running 25 miles per week. By August, he was up to 70 miles per week.
“We had all of our top guys coming back and were healthy,” he said. “We felt ambitious and hungry, acknowledging our potential to place well at the district and state meets.”
Forbes toured the Delco Meet course at Rose Tree Park in 18 minutes, 43 seconds, more than 25 seconds faster than runner-up Cohen. Donnelly’s winning Delco time was 16:46, two seconds faster than Zeh.
“The Delco Meet was incredibly enjoyable,” Forbes said. “After one mile I felt strong and increased my pace. I was alone for most of the race, but the most memorable part of the race was when a car that was driving my brother to the meet came within inches of hitting me.
“I was very happy crossing the finish line first knowing I had the support of my team, my family, my relatives and the (Haven) men’s cross country team.”
For Donnelly and his teammates, Delcos was their first major meet and first opportunity to make a statement about how good a team they could be.
“What I’ll remember most was the way all the parts of our team finally came together where we were able to execute and dominate that day,” Donnelly said. “We felt we earned it, and the sensation of reading the score at the end of the day was phenomenal.”
The district championship meet at Lehigh University in late October turned into disappointment for Forbes, who finished third but wasn’t able to help Strath Haven qualify for the state meet.
“We had trained so hard throughout the season,” she said. “It was so disappointing. I was happy that I had a 22-second personal best in my race.”
Donnelly also expressed disappointment in the fact that Haverford took only fourth place in the team standings at districts, even though that was enough to earn a trip to Hershey for the Fords.
“Our thought process was that we could have performed better,” he said. “In contrast, we were thrilled to have punched our ticket to move on and run as a team the following week.”
At Hershey, Forbes placed 24th and Donnelly finished 15th in the PIAA Class AAA finals, both earning medals.
“I didn’t perform as I would have liked,” Forbes said. “I was hungry for the state title, and I needed to run in the front pack. Unfortunately, the conditions were sub-optimal with the record-high rain the day before and the harsh, cold winds that seemed to never stop. I simply ran the first mile too fast, and it affected me for the rest of the race. I have taken that day as a learning experience and am so eager to take this knowledge on to my collegiate races.”
“Grace always exhibited great sportsmanship with teammates and other competitors,” Coren said. “She went all out that day, but she just didn’t have it.”
Donnelly didn’t fare well in Hershey as a sophomore, and used that experience — as well as the knowledge that his teammates would be on course — to earn a medal.
“That was a validating feeling for me,” he said. “I knew coming into the season that I could be one of the best runners in Pennsylvania.”
“His finish at states was extremely impressive,” Green said. “A gutsy, brave effort. He’s only going to get better — in track and in cross country in 2019.”
Forbes will join her sister, Maddie, at Rice University in Houston next fall. She hopes to attend medical school after college and work in pediatric ophthalmology, her father’s profession. Before that, there will be her senior year indoor and outdoor track adventures.
“I owe everything I have accomplished to my coaches and God,” she said. “Without them, I simply would not be here today. (Coach) Coren has made my love for running greater. Every day I look forward to our workouts and thank God for gifting me with this ability.
“I wear my Grandpa’s lucky sweatshirt to every meet and thank him for blessing me with his love for running.”
“She’s champing at the bit to run indoor track,” Coren said. “She wants to help her team win the DMR (distance medley relay) at indoor states and then go after a Penn Relays plaque and win state championships in the 800 and 4 x 800 at outdoor states.”
For Donnelly, his junior year success has him looking forward.
“My cross country medal gave me a taste of a feeling I now crave and will look to find more of,” he said. “Track will give me the opportunities to do so. As I better myself, I also aim to better those around me.”
“He has become a teacher and mentor on our team,” Green said. “He knows what he needs. I toss my thoughts in and we formulate things together. In short, he makes my job easy.”
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