As El Mancini, a sophomore on La Salle University’s cross-country team, walked across campus recently, another student stopped her.
“I see you everywhere,’’ the student told Mancini.
She tried to explain.
“Oh, no, there’s more than one,” El told her.
She has a twin, Liz, also an Explorers runner.
The mistaken identity might not even be her twin. A double take isn’t enough for the Mancini sisters, from Media in Delaware County. There’s Grace, a senior. And now Christine, a freshman. All cross-country runners.
When was the last time a single college team, any sport, had four siblings on the squad in the same year?
All this would be interesting if the sisters were the slowest on La Salle’s team, but that’s pretty much the opposite of the way it goes down.
Grace is the team star. At La Salle’s first race, the Lehigh Invitational, Grace, running at the controlled pace prescribed by her coach, finished 36 seconds ahead of the West Virginia runner who took second. Grace ran in the NCAA championships last November after finishing second in the NCAA mid-Atlantic regional.
Two more sisters showed up two years ago from Cardinal O’Hara High, and both finished higher as freshmen in the Atlantic 10 meet than Grace had. Liz, who had won a state title in 2017, was named outstanding A-10 rookie performer last fall. Liz won the state as a senior, but El, her twin, took the Delaware County title.
By the end of last fall, the three sisters were the top three Explorers performers. So is Christine, the freshman, feeling the pressure of all her sisters’ accomplishments?
Forget it. Christine won her own state title last fall. She’d held her own racing against the twins in some high school events. The whole group has turned heads going back to CYO days at St. Pius.
This little dynasty has its roots when Grace Mancini was in second grade, when her best friend, Bess across the street, decided to join the CYO team at St. Pius. Why not? Grace didn’t expect to like it.
She loved it.
The twins joined in short order, followed by the youngest. (Christine confirms she is the last sister. Sorry, Explorers, no more are coming.) Christine probably joined CYO a year earlier than the rest. She was showing up and running around anyway.
Energy was never an issue; sending them all to the park to burn some off for an hour was considered a family plus. Even on their youth soccer teams, they said, the coaches typically made the Mancini girls midfielders, where they could run the most.
“If I had to play defense, I was so mad,’’ Christine said.
They’re used to people getting the names hopelessly confused, or give up trying. Of the twins, Grace said, “Every April Fool’s Day, you can expect them to switch places.”
Grace obviously had to make the college choice first, and she remembers filling out 19 applications before a visit to La Salle during the spring of her senior year made the decision for her.
“That’s the Mancinis in a nutshell,’’ said their coach, Tom Peterson, in charge of La Salle’s men’s and women’s track and cross-country programs. “They’re all thorough.”
He noted that runners get a sheet with a weight-room workout. Ninety percent of his team will follow the sheet accordingly. No problem with that. The Mancini girls, he said, “consistently check off the exercises that they’ve done, leave little notes. Honestly, that’s where a lot of their success comes from, in their attention to what they need to do.”
The younger three suggest that they made their college choices individually, and Peterson said he always tried to recruit them individually, since he would have been happy to have any one of them. It was easy in the end, they all said. Grace and El are computer science majors (Grace doubling with a physics major, El doubling with a business major). Liz and Christine are nursing majors.
Their competitiveness, they said, doesn’t necessarily come from Mom and Dad, who cheer them all as they go by, whenever they go by.
“You could get dead last, they would think we did awesome,’’ Christine said of their parents.
The sisters occasionally all got to run together on relay teams in high school, and could see that conceivably happening in the spring. A family highlight was when they ran together four years ago to place seventh at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in the 4-x-mile in New York.
So at a national-championship meet, only six schools in the country could come up with four runners who could collectively beat one nuclear family. (And that’s with a freshman and two sophomores running.)
The Mancinis all agree that this is a team sport, that you’re only as strong as the weakest link. Even in cross-country, Liz said, “you need five people.”
Even so, they like how Peterson, their coach, has individualized workouts for everybody. Grace typically runs up to 70 miles in a week, while the twins might do 55 or 60, and the freshman sister is around 45.
And Grace is the accepted leader, the one everyone goes to with questions about track or school or life.
“For example, I was the one who arranged what we would wear today,’’ Grace said, realizing that a photographer would show up.
If the twins showed up and immediately showed they meant business, their coach will be pleased if all show the progress made by their older sister.
“I look back on Grace’s freshman year,’’ Peterson said. “How much she matured. That’s the type of athlete you want to coach. A kid who comes in and maybe doesn’t know everything but figures it out and makes the necessary changes to get better.”
The first one through the door, he said, doesn’t have the benefit of an older sister to learn from. That said, the coach added about the twins, “They both have excellent work ethics. Grace doesn’t give them that.”
They aren’t the types, they all said, to try for a four-way tie. Their coach occasionally notices the four of them hooking up during a training run and suddenly the pace gets hotter than what they’re supposed to be doing, a mini-race developing.
“My job is probably more to rein them in than it is to push them,’’ Peterson said. “It definitely isn’t a coach-athlete situation where I want it more than them. I think my most-used word on the track when they’re working out is relax.”