Article by Phoenix journalist Elena Smith:
The Kellenberg Girls Cross Country team has always been known for being a uniquely tight unit. However, the sophomore runners this season have an exceptional and rare close-knit bond. With only five sophomore girls making up the team, they have had to step it up to a new level and strive for rigorous goals, in the meantime growing closer as friends and teammates throughout the season.
Known as the “Fab Five,” sophomores Ashley Minns, Victoria Diéguez, Victoria McLoughlin, Margaret McLoughlin and Margaret Dollof are the members of this one-of-a-kind team.
According to Minns, “The team is extremely close with each other as a whole. Running is such a vulnerable sport and we have really seen the raw emotions of one another. We’re very close and enjoy spending time with each other which creates an environment that allows everyone to individually thrive, leading to the success of the team.”
The other four girls agreed that their strong friendship makes the team special, Dollof highlighting how supportive they are by cheering each other on.
They surely encourage each other when it comes to reaching their personal goals, about which each girl is very optimistic. Minns is looking forward to the girls’ two remaining meets: the CHSAA State Championships and the New York State Federation Championship. As the season finishes up, she hopes to run under 16 minutes in the Intersectional Championships on November 10. Likewise, Dollof also hopes to cut down on her time.
Victoria McLoughlin states that she is “very proud of how far our sophomore team has come. At the end of last year during signups we didn’t even have a full scoring team. But Victoria Diéguez tried out for the team and it was meant to be.”
That’s right – the Fab Five almost didn’t exist – a fact that makes them even more special and appreciative of each other. In fact, when asked about how she stays motivated and what drives her to run, Minn admitted, “I run for my team more than anything.”
The girls have gained more than speed and strength from their time running this season. Friendships, role models and tons of good memories have been some of the results of this hardcore season. Margaret McLoughlin stated that she looks up to the upperclassmen on the team and even the seniors who graduated last year. She was moved because they all “genuinely enjoyed it and were very committed to the team.”
Her favorite memory of this cross country season was the pasta parties.
“After tryouts, one of the captains had a barbecue and we got to know the new freshman,” said McLoughlin. “The team is always having fun together and trying new things. After the Xavier invitational, (where both varsity and junior varsity performed well) we stopped in Little Italy for cannolis.”
Another way the team bonds is through their pre-meet rituals. “When we’re on the starting line, our captains will lead us in prayer, and then our coach, Mr. Moncada, leads a chant. He screams, ‘Let me get two claps and a red flare!’ and we all clap twice then scream.”
The girls inspire each other greatly and have also learned many valuable lessons from their other teammates and coaches so far this year.
“The best lesson I’ve learned is to really trust and have confidence in myself,” Minns reflected. “Going into any race, especially those where the odds are stacked against you, you really have to just trust in your training and know that you’re well prepared to handle whatever happens…as cliche as it is, I think the best advice I’ve ever been given is not to give up but stay strong. Running is such a raw and mental sport, and a negative mindset doesn’t nurture that! When racing, you really just have to trust yourself and have confidence.” Minns has also been inspired by the satisfaction of improving every week and knowing that her hard work is paying off. For Victoria McLoughlin, Mr. Moncada’s mantra – “trust the process” – is the most valuable lesson she has learned. “He reminds us daily to have faith and determination even during practices.”
The Fab Five is obviously an exceptional and unique team with interesting and uplifting dynamics that would inspire anyone. Before starting on the team, none of the girls (besides the McLoughlin twins), knew each other. They are now close friends, spending hours together every day.
“I believe we work really cohesively as a team and truly have an amazing bond that sets us apart from other sophomore teams,” Minns commented. “It’s nice to have other girls my age to rely on. We all support each other so much in each race, and it’s so nice to have such a strong support system.”
These Lady Firebirds are lucky to have each other and such a marvelous experience as high school athletes. Blessed with such wonderful and loyal friends, it’s no wonder these girls are fabulous!