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O’Malley, Quinn fuel
Fenwick’s strong pack attack
 
By Bill Stone

The saga of Fenwick senior runners Maggie O’Malley and Maria Quinn can be traced to their grade-school days at St. John of the Cross School in their hometown of Western Springs.

“I feel like we were always in the same homeroom together. I remember us always getting along,” O’Malley said.

“We were in the same grade so we were pretty much best friends, and we live within five minutes. We’ve always been pretty close, and we’re pretty similar in everything so we get along pretty well.”

As freshmen, however, their views varied with one subject – running.

O’Malley actually planned to join the girls tennis team that fall sports season. Her mother persuaded her to try cross country. 

Now O’Malley hopes to run collegiately.

“Really, I was forced into it which is kind of crazy, because now I love it so much,” O’Malley said. “I always think how it is so crazy how every day freshman year I hated going to practice and now I love going to practice. It’s so different, my view on running now.”

With the senior friends on the same page with that, too, they and the Friars have high expectations.

They’re the top returning finishers from the Friars’ highest state performance in program history – fourth in Class AA at the 2019 state meet. The team's 199 points put them only 20 points from a top-three trophy in the program’s third state team berth in Class AA or 3A.

O’Malley (34th, 18:11.71 for 3.0 miles) and Quinn (38th, 18:14.88) performed well Nov. 9 at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, the annual site of the state meet. O’Malley was nine places and 12.52 seconds from 25th place and the final individual all-state spot. 

Sophomore Bella Daley (62nd, 18:45.48), senior Katie Cahill (74th, 18:55.18), junior Mikaela Burns (91st, 19:08.09) and senior Delaney Seligmann (181st, 20:41.08) also return from the seven-runner state lineup. 

Senior Courtney Yungerman, juniors Camille Nourie and Mia Scharpf and sophomore Adelai Kaiser were among the 2019 state meet alternates. The only graduation loss was no. 3 team-finisher Marie O’Brien (59th, 18:43.29). 

The season opener is scheduled for an early morning start Saturday (Aug. 29) against Nazareth on the Friars' Priory course in River Forest.

“I think we have a lot of talent for sure,” Quinn said. "We’re focusing on just training our hardest like last year, but with the uncertainty it’s not as much how we’re going to be placing and our times. (It's) just working our hardest because the competition is so uncertain.

“I would say running-wise Maggie is very, very strong in the long distance, and I like mid-distance. It’s kind of fun because we push each other different days. Personality-wise, we have a very similar sense of humor. We find stupid things funny, where usually the rest of the team isn’t laughing. But we find it really funny.”

There were smiles all around after the Friars excelled in their first team state trip since 2014, when they finished 18th as a Class 3A qualifier. Fenwick was fifth in Class AA in 2011.

The 2019 Friars were beaten only by Benet (110), Lakes (177) and Prairie Ridge (179). They were nine points ahead of fifth place St. Ignatius (208). Champion Benet won its program’s first state title with no seniors.  

“Our highest placing for sure and a wonderful team effort,” Fenwick coach Kevin Roche said. "I’m just super proud of them and all they did last year."

In 2018, the Friars finished sixth at their Class 3A sectional, one place and just three points from a team state berth. Only O’Brien and 2019 graduate Laura Durkin advanced as individual qualifiers.

Once again in 2019, the Friars excelled behind their philosophy of pack running.

“I think the real benefit from (fourth in state last season) was feeling like they belong. For a long time, Fenwick cross country didn’t feel as though we were a part of it,” Roche said. “We’re reminding them this is evidence they belong in these conversations. Now with that belief within them, these girls are a little more fierce and a little less timid.” 

This season’s competition format, however, is significantly different. 

To comply with social gathering restrictions, the regular season features only dual or triangular meets and with none of the major multi-team Saturday invitationals that serve as great measuring sticks for runners and teams heading into the postseason. 

The Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Meet is scheduled for Oct. 17 at Loyola Academy’s west campus, but any kind of a state meet or postseason remains to be determined.

For many Friars, Saturday will be their first official competition since mid-March, when the track and field season was suspended and then eventually canceled along with other IHSA spring sports. O’Malley and Quinn both are also track standouts.  

“I think we’re all just really excited for the season, even though it’s probably going to be really different,” O’Malley said. 

“I think we’re just really blessed, because it’s been a long time since we got to compete,” Quinn said. “Any meet we have, it’ll just be great running. Missing out on track made us really grateful for what we have now.” 

The Friars were fortunate that training these past five months was disrupted as little as possible. There were the roughly three months since indoor track ended where athletes trained on their own after in-school learning ended March 17. 

“We knew we had to keep the group together not necessarily for training, but just because they’re important to one another,” Roche said.  

The athletes had regular online meetings every 2-to-3 days just to check in. They were sprinkled with fun topics, such as favorite part of the house or favorite ice cream flavor.

Roche provided what he hoped were training plans that his athletes felt were safe and comfortable to perform independently. Another morale booster came April 25 when the program held a virtual marathon with 10 running teams, including entires with with coaches and alumni. The teams combined their distances and times to cover 26.2 miles.

“I think coach Roche definitely did a good job of giving workouts and workouts similar to when we’re at school,” O’Malley said. 

By mid-June, the annual summer training went as scheduled for roughly six weeks, although with masks and proper social distancing among athletes. All cross country teams were able to officially begin preseason training on the IHSA’s previously scheduled date of Aug. 10.

“It was definitely challenging at times (this offseason) because with the team it’s so much easier to run,” O’Malley said. “People really push you when you’re together and on your own you don’t have that. It was hard to get out the door sometimes, but other times it was easier.”

With their proximity, O’Malley and Quinn saw each other a couple of times before summer training began. Otherwise they generally lived the lives of lonely distance runners logging mileage by themselves.

“I think it took a lot of time to get used to but with running like we do, we train for this because we do run by ourselves anyway (sometimes),” Quinn said. “The training was hard but now we’re kind of back to normal with practice. That beginning period was really challenging but now I think we figured it out.”

The collective team elation following that great 2019 state meet helped to keep the Friars going. 

O’Malley and Quinn finished behind eight and 10 seniors, respectively.

“That was really great because I think we went in with pretty similar goals and my goal was to stay with Maggie,” Quinn said. “I think (as a team) we were just really glad to have a state experience like that. That’s something we were trying to do this year but we can forget about the past because this season is so different. I’m glad we had that race because we were so happy with it.”

O’Malley capped her breakthrough season after gaining confidence from her earlier regular-season race at Detweiller Oct. 5 -- a then personal-best 18:27.2. 

At state, O’Malley came 6.41 seconds from breaking the top 30. The last runner to break 18 minutes, current Benet senior Joy Jackson, was 26th (17:59.40).

“I definitely wanted to go low 18s. I didn’t really have a place (goal at state) just because I didn’t know, but I was pretty happy with that race,” O’Malley said. 
“I think I was definitely well prepared and did what I could and definitely gave it my all. It was definitely a good experience. I really liked the competition and just felt very energetic and everyone was really supportive. Everyone was cheering you on so it was good to be around when you’re racing.” 

Quinn improved significantly from her Class 3A sectionals races as a sophomore (33rd) and freshman (89th). Just .09 from 33rd at last year’s state meet, Quinn knows she honestly gave it her all.

“(State) was one of the few races where I feel like I finished empty. It was almost like a little bit of closure,” Quinn said. “Not that it was my top performance but I have no regrets from that race. And everyone just raced well and came together. It was just a really, really exciting day. It’s nice to reflect on when we’re feeling sad about this season.”

In track, Quinn is a two-time top-eight Class AA all-state finisher with the 3,200-meter relay as a freshman (6th) and sophomore (5th). The Friars’ best 2020 relay lineup never even got a chance to compete together before the season was canceled.

“I would say I was really disappointed at first but in quarantine I think we just kept running. We slowly kind of figured out as it progressed there’s not going to be a season anymore,” Quinn said. “State is the most fun. It’s the end of all of the work, but the total season makes it the most fun. State is one day. Without state, the season can still be successful. We’ll just have to see this year, hopefully.”

O’Malley’s last-minute 2017 switch to cross country wasn’t easy. The quick transition to distance running probably contributed to her missing the entire season with a stress fracture diagnosed just before the season opener. 

As a sophomore, a healthy O’Malley improved significantly and was a state series alternate.

“We called her the clock. She was very methodical,” Quinn remembered. “She progressed really fast. She PR'ed (ran personal records) every race so that was cool to watch.”

Last season, O’Malley continued taking her training – and perhaps most importantly self-maintenance – to a higher level. Before state, O’Malley finished in 10th place at the Fenton Sectional.

“I think just the consistency, just the small stuff like making sure I was stretching. Over time, I got better,” O’Malley said. “I feel like I definitely love the sport more and more, and it makes me want to train and practice more and do better at all of the races.”

If there’s a state meet, O’Malley would love to again finish the season with a lifetime best. 

That includes challenging for a team trophy and becoming the fourth individual all-stater in Fenwick history and the first since Olivia Ryan’s four all-state runs from 2011-14, the last three in Class 3A.

“Personally I would like to break 18:00 (this season) but teamwise we could get fourth again or maybe third or second,” O’Malley said. “I’ve definitely thought about it (all-state). I thought about it a little bit last year. Most people break 18:00 to get all-state so my goals are kind of like two in one.”

Whatever happens, O’Malley and Quinn plan to be happy together.

“I think both of us really pay attention to the little things we’re pursuing,” Quinn said. “In running, Maggie and I are similar in the way we like to train. In class, we like to study day by day and sleep is the big thing. And personality, we’re similar in how we like to work for our goals.”

“I think she’s definitely more vocal than I am. I think we both do a good job in leading the team in different ways,” O’Malley said. “I think we’ll do a good job with leading the team and making sure everyone is happy with where they’re at.”

Roche said he’s enjoyed watching the two runners build into great leaders for the Friars.

“You can tell how close they are. They just so enjoy one another and lean on one another,” Roche said.

“Over time, (O’Malley) caught the running bug, especially sophomore year. The more work you put in typically you get better. She’s a real craftsman, I like to say. Maria has been a tremendous leader. She has a sense of maturity to lead others and poise and honesty. Coaches lean on her and athletes also look up to her.” 

Leadership also will be boosted by Cahill, another postseason veteran who ran at sectionals as a sophomore (56th) and freshman (84th). 

Roche said that seniors Mary Jacobs and Caroline Darrow also will lead as “great culture-builders” for the team. 

“(Cahill) definitely leads by example. She always does what she’s asked and is focused on the small things, which is good,” O’Malley said. 

At last year’s Fenton Sectional, Daley and Burns were the team’s nos. 3 and 5 team finishers. With O’Malley and Quinn sitting out the Latin Regional, Daley, Seligmann and Burns were the no. 2-4-5 team finishers as Scharpf and Martinez joined the lineup. 

In the team’s early time trials, Daley has been among the team’s top finishers. Burns also ran at the 2018 sectionals as a freshman (57th).

“There’s no doubt that the Friars run better together. Each one of them add great value to the team. We’re encouraging them to find their pack,” Roche said. 

“We (coaches) have said how we have to throw out all of the expectations of normalcy of before. What would be a success is if the girls have a positive experience running, pushing themselves to be a good person. That’s how it always should be, but especially this season we don’t know how this season is going to go.” 

As Quinn knows, one of the positive question marks is that many freshmen and newcomers also can contribute, maybe even for the varsity.

“I think the most help we can give (non-seniors) is just we’ve learned how important it is to have the little things you can do to help yourself, and to show up every day,” Quinn said. 

“Freshman year can be pretty nerve-wracking and just letting them know it’s supposed to be fun. I was the seventh runner freshman year and didn’t really appreciate how fun cross country could be. I think the improvement each year helped my love for the sport, because I loved and got to know people more and more.” 

During the pandemic, O’Malley had extra time to enjoy seveal of her favorite interests -- cooking and baking. Her mother has started a cooking and baking business.

“I usually try different types of cookies, pancakes. Just the basics,” O’Malley said.

Upon her return, O’Malley is excited that her times are ahead of last year’s preseason training results. 

Add the Friars’ continued commitment to teamwork, and another recipe for success should be coming. 

“A few of our runners really improved this season so we’re very excited that hopefully we can improve on last year’s performance,” Quinn said. 

“It’ll definitely look like a different type of success. At the end of the year, if everything comes together as a team and everyone trained as hard as they can, regardless of our opportunities to race, we’ll consider it a successful season.”
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