It’s been a special time for La Salle distance runner Grace Mancini.
She has had the chance to compete with her three younger sisters in track and cross-country for the last two seasons with the Explorers. And this week, in her third appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field East Preliminary in Jacksonville, Fla., she will make it a family trip, accompanied by her sister, Eleanor.
“It’s really exciting as an individual to make it to such a high-level meet,” said Mancini, 23, a graduate student who will compete Saturday in both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run.
“But for me it’s double as exciting knowing that I get to go there with my sister, and that we both get to compete, and we get to be there for each other and support each other. I don’t think it could be any more exciting than getting to go with your sister.”
In her first NCAA prelim, Eleanor Mancini, 21, a junior who usually goes by El, will compete Thursday in the 10,000 meters. For her, this is a unique opportunity to see where she stacks up against the best from the eastern half of the country and watch her sister do the same.
“It’s even more exciting for us because we’ve really been together every step of the journey,” she said, “training over the summer, training every day at school. So it’s special because we’ve helped each other get there, and we’ve seen how hard the other one has worked through the whole process. I see how hard she works, so it’s just really exciting to see all her hard work pay off.”
Elizabeth (Liz) and Christine Mancini also are starting to blaze their own path at La Salle. Liz, a junior, was second to El, her twin, in the 10,000 at the recent Atlantic 10 outdoor championships. Christine, a sophomore, won the 800 at the Philadelphia Big 5 meet and set a personal best in the 1,500 at 4 minutes, 23.26 seconds at the Temple Invitational.
The four sisters, from Media, all graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School. Grace has her undergraduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and received her masters in cyber security earlier this month. El is a computer science major, and Elizabeth and Christine both major in nursing.
“Getting to know the family, and obviously Grace being the first one through the door and kind of blazing the trail, they’re a pleasure to coach,” La Salle track and field coach Tom Peterson said. “They’re all really hard workers. They’re all very good students. They basically check every box of what a coach is looking for in a student-athlete.
“Grace is kind of the trailblazer. I think subsequently Elizabeth and Eleanor and now Christine have all benefited from Grace’s learning experiences and her adaptation to college and becoming not just a college student but to become a college athlete as well, and a successful one at that.”
As the oldest, Grace Mancini has taken pleasure in not only watching her younger sisters improve on the track but strengthening the bond that all four share as siblings and teammates.
“The four of us have always been really close our whole lives,” she said. “I think part of it is because we’re close in age. We’ve always been best friends. We’ve always played together and hung out together.
“But throughout our years at La Salle of running together and being teammates, I think we’ve become even closer than normal. We train together every single day. Almost all of our runs we do together, every practice. We even race together a lot. So I think it’s really made the four of us even closer than we used to be, and we’ve loved every second of it.”
She has helped her sisters make the transition from high school to college from both an athletic and academic standpoint. El was coming off a foot injury when she entered La Salle and followed Grace’s direction to push through it while having the support of her twin sister.
“She taught me to stick it out even though it’s definitely a tough transition,” El Mancini said. “Liz and I kind of went through our first year together, and the transition was hard. So it was nice to know that somebody else was going through it with me.
“We tried to help each other, encourage each other, and then same thing with Christine. We kind of warned her that the transition was hard. We just always encourage each other and tell each other that it gets easier. Obviously, it’s gotten a lot easier. It’s still a lot of work, but we just encourage each other to keep working.”
The NCAA East Preliminary features women’s competition Thursday and Saturday, with men’s events on Wednesday and Friday. Contestants will attempt to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships June 9-12 in Eugene, Ore.
Grace Mancini enters the meet seeded fifth in the steeplechase in 9:50.73, and 25th in the 5,000 at 15:58.40. A potential obstacle is that both events will be Saturday, with the 5,000 starting about two hours after she completes the steeplechase. But she said she is “up for the challenge.”
El’s qualifying time of 34:30.92 marked the first time she had competed in the 10,000 and made her the No. 41 seed out of 48 runners who qualified. As for the advice her sister gave her for the meet: “Stay hydrated because it’s really hot down there, and race smart because everyone there is a good, experienced runner.”
Grace said she hopes to use her experience of the previous two years at the preliminaries to her advantage.
“I think it’s going to help me be able to stay calm and relaxed and just go out there and do my best,” she said. “I know how the meet works and how the heats work, and I’ve run in Florida where it’s hot twice before. So I think all that experience is going to help me this year. And I hope to share that experience with my sister El.”