Suffern's Mary Hennelly Found Her Focus On The Track

The idea that Mary Hennelly would one day be an All-State/All-American soccer player may not seem all that realistic today, especially since the Suffern High junior has established herself as one of the premier prep runners in the country. 

There was a time, however, not too long ago that Hennelly, 17, viewed a future on the pitch with as much enthusiasm as she currently views what lies ahead on the track. Her elementary and middle school athletic endeavors included all the classic tomboy - yes, that's what she considered herself - adventures, including baseball, lacrosse, basketball, running and, yes, soccer. 

"I never pictured myself [then] as being a runner," Hennelly said. "If you look at my fifth-grade yearbook, my dream was to be a professional soccer player. Obviously, that's not going to happen. Growing up I was a tomboy. I played baseball for six years until high school and I was also playing basketball and lacrosse.

"I always wanted to play hockey when I was little. My dad and I are big hockey fans, Ranger fans, and we bond over that. We sit and watch games all the time. But hockey was the only sport I wasn't allowed to play. Dad didn't want me to get injured but I played D.A.R.E. hockey until eighth grade. I don't think I would have lasted very long playing hockey and I don't think I would have been very good."

While Hennelly has given up playing competitive soccer - she's still keeping an eye on the women's World Cup though - and no longer plays street hockey - she still loves the game - her future absent of those sports seems bright.

She began running cross country and track in seventh grade and was leaning toward continuing to play basketball when her track coach mentioned that she should continue running cross country.

"I'm glad I made the decision I made," Hennelly said. "I guess it has all worked [out]."

That is an understatement. Hennelly has been one of New York's most dominant runners - in each of the three seasons - since she took up the sport in earnest. Her latest accomplishment came earlier this month when she finished sixth in the steeplechase [6:54.71] at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina. She says the steeplechase is one of her favorite events and it's one that she has had a great deal of success in for quite a while.

Hennelly holds the state seventh-grade record for the 2000-meter steeplechase [7:00.12] and was the state's eighth-grade record holder until Cornwall's Karrie Baloga [6:43.19] bettered her mark by more than three seconds earlier this month at the state championships in Middletown. Still, Hennelly owns the top two times in the state as a seventh grader and the second- and third-best times as an eight grader.

Those are just some of the accolades that have Hennelly has earned during the last five years, though. Her resume is littered with first-place finishes in the 600, 800, 1000, 1500 and 3000 meters every indoor and outdoor season not to mention the always big showings in the steeplechase.

While it seems as if Hennelly has glided to the top of her sport, it always hasn't been an easy journey. She dealt with injuries early on in high school - including a broken foot as a freshman - and there is always the specter of North Rockland's Katelyn Tuohy, the most dominant girls prep runner in the country who also happens to be in the same grade and section as Hennelly. The two seemed to be on even footing in middle school but Tuohy has exploded since, leaving everyone, not just Hennelly, in her wake.

"We were running against each other in seventh and eighth grade and we had some insane battles," Hennelly said. "I remember thinking that I was super-stoked to have the opportunity to do that with her for six more years. There was a lot of pressure at a young age to stay on that hot streak. I qualified for nationals in cross country in the eighth grade and that was an amazing moment. 

"But my freshman year I broke my foot and then Katelyn hit her hot streak and broke record after record. One of the worst was when she beat my [Rockland] County record at Bear Mountain."

While some teenagers would be envious about or angry with the situation, Hennelly is not. Tuohy is more than a competitor, she is a friend and Hennelly couldn't be happier for her.

"I think it's come to a point where you always want to have an aggressive mindset but it's difficult when you always see [North Rockland] red in front of you," Hennelly said. "It's definitely motivating. She's an amazing runner and all of us aspire to be as good as her. She has done a lot for the running community. She is an amazing talent and a nice girl; we have become close friends."

Hennelly figures to have an equally impressive senior season. She remains one of the most dominant runners in the state and that, along with the national footprint she has established, should set her up for a wonderful collegiate career. 

She still has no idea where she wants to go school - she'll start getting serious about the process this summer - but she knows it will be a school with a good distance program. She does know, however, that she won't be following her older brothers, Pat (Jr.) and Mike (Fr.), to Manhattan College in the Bronx.

While she has an excellent relationship with both - she trains a great deal with Mike - it would be just a bit too much togetherness.

"I don't think I could deal with my brothers much longer," she joked. 

A professional running career might be in the offing as well but Hennelly says she'll have to wait and see how college goes.

"I'll see how I feel," she said. "If it doesn't feel right then no, I won't do it. It would be insane to run professionally but it's not like I'm going to be upset about it if I don't. Whatever happens, happens."