Athlete of the Week: Rams’ Dellinger continuing to grow on cross country course

Grace Dellinger

STRASBURG – Grace Dellinger quickly emerged as a top runner for Strasburg’s girls cross country team as a freshman two years ago, eventually reaching the state meet in her first varsity season.

At the time, Rams head coach Jeff Rudy expressed his excitement over watching Dellinger’s race knowledge grow as she gained experience. Now a junior, Dellinger is looking more and more like a seasoned runner in the eyes of her head coach.

“So much of racing is holding back and having confidence in your own race strategy and running your own race versus falling prey to what other people are doing that may or may not be the wisest decisions,” Rudy said prior to practice Tuesday afternoon. “We see her now pacing herself, biding her time, recognizing her competition and knowing that as the race unfolds she will get stronger, people will come back to her and that she can go toe to toe with anyone in (Group 2A).”

After what Dellinger called an “off day” at the Central Invitational back on Aug. 27 (she finished 29th overall in the nine-team race), the junior took a step toward returning to form with her performance at the Eastern Mennonite Invitational last Saturday at the Peakview Course in Penn Laird.

Despite some pre-race uncertainty about her odds in the 10-team race due to the sweltering heat, Dellinger, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Sept. 5-11, crossed the finish line in fifth place in a time of 22:59 to help Strasburg (85 points) to a runner-up finish behind Broadway (78).

“I just was just trying not to stress over it a lot, just do my thing out there and run my race,” Dellinger said of the 5K race, which she won as a freshman in 2014.

“It’s a very hilly course. It actually has ‘The Wall’ in it,” she added, referring to a steep incline that looms in the trail’s first mile, “so I was just planning on running the hills hard and just run my race.”

Dellinger’s return to the top of the Rams’ racing lineup last weekend could mark the start of a recurring trend for a youthful Strasburg squad this season. With no seniors on the girls side to assume a natural leadership role, a lot of that responsibility has fallen on Dellinger and teammates with similar racing experience.

“She’s stepping up, understanding her role, her and Rachel Palmer, and the (girls) team is becoming … really cohesive and understanding that we are not a team, we are in fact a family,” Rudy said. “We see those girls hanging out outside of school, going out to eat together to grab a pizza, hanging out in the hallway.”

Dellinger said that while she didn’t expect to fill a primary leadership role entering the season, she has fully embraced the challenge.

“I like to think that they look up and try to kind of follow what I do when we do our warm-up, do our cool-down together,” she said.

“I try to act more professional and stuff so they know how they’re supposed to act.”

Dellinger certainly has the racing experience to warrant such a mentor role. A competitive racer since fifth grade, Dellinger has already reached the Group 2A state championship meet twice in her first two years of high school cross country.

As a freshman she placed 21st in the state meet, while last season she was one of only two Strasburg girls to qualify and finished 37th overall. Dellinger said she’s hoping that prior experience helps her in her quest for a return trip to Great Meadow this fall.

“It’s nice knowing what to expect on the course and definitely who my competition is,” Dellinger said. “I race them all season and I know a lot of them from other sports.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com