Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kudos to Tom Donnelly ('69) and his Goats

Tom Donnelly was a key to three cross country national titles for Villanova in 1966, 1967, and 1968. He was an all-american twice in cross (when the criteria were more onerous than they are today), and achieved all-american status on the track as well (he was an NCAA finalist three times in the steeple: 1967: 8th, 1968: 4th, and 1969: 3rd). He guided the professional running careers of, among others, Sydney Maree (who at one point after running 13:01 had the third fastest 5000 meter time in history) and Marcus O'Sullivan (who won three world championships over 1500 meters and ran 101 sub-4:00 miles). He's been the head coach at Haverford since the mid 1970s and last week he coached the Goat harriers to the first NCAA title ever won by a Haverford sports team. Here is the article that appeared in the New York Times.

For Haverford, 2 National Cross-Country Titles and a Rhodes Scholarship
November 24, 2010
New York Times

So much good news rolled into the world of the Haverford College men’s cross-country family last Saturday that it was almost too much for its longtime coach, Tom Donnelly, to process in the span of a few hours.

Tom Donnelly has coached at Haverford College for 36 years and has produced more than 100 all-Americans. As he ran toward the finish line at the N.C.A.A. Division III national championship course in Waverly, Iowa — he had stationed himself at the four-mile mark to urge his runners on — Donnelly frantically asked the first of them he saw, Anders Hulleberg, how he had done.

“I won,” Hulleberg said.

“No, you didn’t!” Donnelly answered.

Back at his office this week at Haverford, in suburban Philadelphia, Donnelly laughed while recalling the scene.

“I’m not sure Anders even believed it at the time,” he said.

And the news only got better. Hulleberg, a senior whose prerace hopes were to finish in the top 10, had not only won the individual title, but Haverford had also won its first national team championship.

The next wave of excitement came when Donnelly and the team returned to the hotel and received a call from Andrew Lanham, the team’s best runner a year ago, who told them he had won a Rhodes scholarship.

“It was an exclamation point on a day that already had 10 exclamation points,” Lanham said.

It was an extraordinary day even for Haverford, a cross-country power despite being among the country’s smallest liberal arts colleges. Donnelly has coached there for 36 years, producing more than 100 all-Americans, his teams capturing many N.C.A.A. regional titles. “These are just great, great human beings,” Donnelly said of his runners, who receive no athletic scholarships. “This school attracts this kind of kid. It’s the greatest thing about coaching here.”

His dedication seemed to pay off tenfold in one day.

Hulleberg, a senior, was having a strong season and entered the race believing he could finish in the lead pack over the 8,000-meter course, which is just under five miles. He was 89th in 2009, not a finish that marked him as a potential contender a year later. But he found himself among the leaders in the final half-mile, then kicked past them, finishing in 24 minutes 22.2 seconds.

“It was just really, really cathartic,” Hulleberg said of the finish. “To win a national title and have your team win a national title is what every runner fantasizes about. They had a scoreboard at the finish and to see Haverford’s name pop up there in first was really amazing.”

Haverford’s top five runners finished among the first 35, making the all-American cut. Chris Southwick, a senior, was 19th in 24:43.5. The senior Lucas Fuentes was 21st (24:45.6), the sophomore Jordan Schilit 31st (24:52.2) and the junior Eric Arnold 34th (24:53.9).

“I knew they could do well,” Donnelly said. “The main thing is, this team really trusts each other. They know if they put everything out there, it would be reciprocated.”

Back at Haverford, Lanham was nervously watching the race, more confident even than Donnelly that his former teammates could win. He had gone through his Rhodes scholarship interview that morning and was so focused on the race, he said, that he wasn’t even nervous for himself.

“I probably should have been,” Lanham said. “But my nerves were all tied up with the team out in Iowa.” He found out a few hours later that he was among 32 Americans chosen for the honor. He immediately called Donnelly and the team.

Lanham said that he had stopped by practice before the team left for Iowa and that Donnelly seemed as concerned with his Rhodes scholarship as he did with the team’s chances. And he told Lanham he believed he would win it. Lanham had spent the time since his graduation last spring tutoring underprivileged children near Philadelphia. He graduated with a double major in English and philosophy.

The thing that tied all of their successes together, the runners said, was Donnelly.

“He could be coaching world-class athletes,” Hulleberg said. “That he chooses to spend his life at a small Division III school, putting so much effort into coaching us, running for him is just an incredible honor.”

And those honors just keep rolling in.

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