By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STRASBURG -- Strasburg cross country coach Jeff Rudy had heard of Grace Dellinger when she was in middle school the last few years and that she would help out his girls team. Rudy and the Rams are glad that Dellinger has been every bit as good as advertised.
The Strasburg freshman has started the season off strong, including winning the Eastern Mennonite Invitational this past weekend.
"Grace's reputation preceded her and we've been anticipating her arrival," Rudy said. "So we're excited at what she's accomplished this year. And we have great expectations for the rest of the season, and her high school development from now until her senior year and seeing what she can in fact accomplish."
Dellinger has accomplished plenty in just the first month of the season for the Rams. She was Strasburg's top finisher in the Central Invitational in the first meet of the season, placing seventh in 20 minutes, 20 seconds at the meet.
On Saturday she won her first varsity race with a time of 21:02, earning her the Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for the week of Sept. 7-Sept. 13.
"I was very excited. It was a good feeling," Dellinger said of winning the race. "I'm very surprised. I was not expecting to do this well so far [this season]."
Dellinger helped the Rams place third as a team in the Eastern Mennonite Invitational. Strasburg's Max Middleton won the boys race (as did Strasburg as a team), making it the first time the Rams have swept individual top honors in the meet.
Dellinger said she stayed with the pack for the first part of the race on Saturday, and then took the lead about halfway through the three-mile race.
Rudy said he was impressed with the way she ran in such a big meet, which had 17 schools.
"She did a wonderful job of pacing herself, of letting the people go out and running her own race," Rudy said. "And after the first mile she allowed herself to open it up and pace herself, knowing where her competition was and utilizing the course, the uphills and downhills."
She is one of only two freshmen on the squad, and Dellinger said the other runners have greeted her with open arms.
"I feel very welcomed," Dellinger said. "They've helped me out a lot, just encouraging me to do better and helping me out when I needed it."
Dellinger said her dad got her started into running and she's stuck with it ever since. She's been running since she was in fifth grade, and said that running in high school is much harder than middle school.
"It's a lot more challenging, definitely a lot more work into it," Dellinger said. "I like it better though."
The Rams have only 10 runners on the girls squad, but have done well so far. Rudy said he was very happy with the team's third-place finish, especially against many larger schools.
"For our small community to compete against people of that caliber and that population and density and to come in third -- we had some great performances," Rudy said. "With Grace coming in and winning, Cheyanne Combs medaling and then our three, four and five of Rachel Tischler, Haley Garrett and Caroline Miller running as a pack through the race, trying to stay together and work as a team to get us a trophy against 16 other schools is an accomplishment."
Rudy has high hopes for the team and for Dellinger, individually, this season and said the freshman's future is very bright.
"Her natural abilities and her gaining race experience is just going to create a terrific runner throughout this season and in the future," Rudy said. "She has a lot of natural ability. The experience of high school training and racing the 5K will all couple together into a good runner, that we are excited to see race the rest of the season and in the future."
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd