Although she ran CYO track for St. Thomas the Apostle School in Glen Mills, Garnet Valley senior Liz McGroarty is a relative newcomer to the sport.
McGroarty ran in grammar school for fun and was on the indoor track team at Garnet Valley as a freshman for basically the same reason. Back then, her sports were field hockey and lacrosse.
"I never took it seriously," McGroarty said. "I ran the 100 and 200 and I went out for indoor track at Garnet Valley because I knew Katie Keyser was doing indoor track."
It did not take McGroarty long, though, to see the light, as Garnet Valley track coach Terry Lillicrap likes to say. McGroarty decided to go out for cross country as a sophomore and field hockey and lacrosse became a thing of the past.
"Some of my friends from the indoor team convinced me to go out for cross country," McGroarty said. "I liked it and decided to go out for outdoor track, too."
She found her athletic calling, which will continue next year at the University of Delaware, where she will study nursing.
"If you had told me three years ago that I would be running in college, I would not have believed you," McGroarty said.
Believe it. McGroarty is the reigning state indoor champion in the 800-meter run. She goes for her second straight county title in the event when the girls Delco championships kick off Thursday afternoon at Upper Darby High School.
"I'm excited," McGroarty said. "I love the Delco champs. It's always a great event."
McGroarty has run everything from the 400 to the 3,200, but her specialty is the 800, which she proved at the indoor state championships. Running in the slower heat, McGroarty went out and posted the best time of her career (2:14.22).
"It was so surreal," McGroarty said. "I wasn't expecting it."
The toughest part was the wait. There was one more heat to run and she had to wait to see if her time held up for the gold medal.
"I was pretty bummed that I wasn't in the fast heat," McGroarty said. "I missed being in that heat by a 10th of the second. I knew I had to go out and win my heat and put up a really good time. I had to take the lead and not look back."
That's easier said than done. Any runner will tell you that it's tough to put up a good time when running from the front.
"I run best when I have competition," McGroarty said. "Being pushed brings out the best in me."
Lillicrap is not surprised at McGroarty's success.
"Once she put her mind to it she realized track was her home," said Lillicrap, who is in his ninth season at Garnet Valley. "She had a good season in cross country as a sophomore and gained more and more confidence during the indoor season. By the time she got to her junior year, she was ready to make the step to the next level."
McGroarty's work ethic and success has rubbed off on the rest of the team.
"She's the best role model," Lillicrap said. "All the freshmen want to be like her. I probably have 20 girls who want to run the 800 because of Liz. And it didn't just happen. She's worked extremely hard to get where she is, and the younger girls see it and want to emulate it. It's had a positive effect on our team."
The hard work paid dividends for McGroarty, too. As her times dropped, colleges began to notice and offers came in. She narrowed her choice down to Delaware, James Madison, George Mason and Towson before finally picking the Blue Hens.
"I'm really excited to go there" McGroarty said. "It has a good nursing program and that is my primary focus. The team is coming along, too. They have a new (assistant) coach (Tim Brock), who works with the distance runners and really knows what he's doing.
"They're doing some really good things. They just won the college section of the DMR at the Penn Relays so I'm really excited to be part of it."
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The two-day county championship event kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday with five championship finals, all in the field. The javelin, shot put, triple jump and high jump will be completed on the first day. All other events are trials. The championships conclude Saturday starting at 5:30 with the discus and long jump finals. The track finals begin at 6:30 with the 4 x 800-meter relay.
Strath Haven is going for its fifth straight county team title, while Upper Darby senior Claudine Andre is trying to make history again. The St. Joseph's-bound senior was the first female to win four individual events at the county championships when she captured the long jump, high jump, triple jump and 100 hurdles last year. Andre is the top seed in all four events. Andre tied the county outdoor record in the high jump when she leaped 5-7 to win the event at the R. Joseph Kellerman Relays two weeks ago.