In the Delaware women’s track and field record book, there are a total of eight times a woman ran under 2:10 in the 800-meter run. Seven of the eight times have been run since Associate Head Coach Ryan Waite joined the program in 2016.
Holly Manning is the most recent to do so, joining the likes of Michaela Meyer, Jeanette Bendolph, Liz McGroarty, Carly Pettipaw and Lindsay Prettyman to break the 2:10 barrier. She broke it in her first meet ever as a Blue Hen, running a 2:08.05 at the University of Virginia Opener in March. Manning eventually set the Delaware school record in the event three times during the spring season.
A former sub 2:10 runner at Stony Brook, Manning planned to graduate in 2020 after five seasons on the Stony Brook cross country and track and field team.
Then COVID-19 struck.
With one year of outdoor track eligibility left and a one-year master’s degree secured at Stony Brook, a change of scenery intrigued Manning.
“I had three schools in mind that I was really interested in and one of them was Delaware because of the success that I had seen Ryan [Waite] have with Michaela [Meyer],” Manning said.
In the winter leading up to the pandemic, Waite coached Meyer as she broke the Delaware indoor 800-meter record in a time of 2:03.40 and qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Indoor National Championships. Manning recalled crying after she watched Meyer qualify, despite the fact the two never met.
When Manning chose Delaware, she came with the hopes to become training partners with Meyer. As Manning joined the team, Meyer weighed her options of transferring to another school to finish her outdoor track eligibility and study in an advanced nursing program. Meyer eventually transferred to Virginia prior to the fall of 2020.
Despite the two never becoming true teammates, the pair were able to connect and Meyer gave Manning advice as she hoped for a breakout season at Delaware.
“I told her that I think that [coach Waite] is such a good coach for every distance event, but specifically the 800,” Meyer said. “I said that with [him] and the support of the Delaware team I think that she could do it.”
Manning understood there was a chance the eventual 2021 NCAA Outdoor 800-meter Champion would transfer schools. Even with Meyer gone, Manning had no second thoughts about coming to Delaware.
“I think that was really the biggest thing that I felt like led to Holly’s success is she bought in 100% the moment she committed to Delaware,” Waite said of Manning. “As soon as she signed that letter of intent saying she was a Blue Hen, she was going to do whatever we asked of her because she trusted 100% that what we were doing was right and that would get her to be successful.”
Her new coach asked her to add an extra workout to her weekly training plan, which proved to be an adjustment for Manning. At Stony Brook, she ran a total of 40-45 miles a week with two workouts a week. Once she started training in Delaware’s program, that number switched to three, with her runs expected done at a slower pace to aid in recovery.
The lack of cross country and indoor track meets for Manning meant she could get accustomed to the adjustments in her training.
“It was definitely some long months, but it was good to get that good base training in and also get used to the differences in training,” Manning said. “I feel quite lucky I had all those months because it was pretty different to what I was doing at Stony Brook.”
Waite believed the strength she built during her time as a cross country runner would benefit her greatly as she trained and raced in the 800. Manning’s personal best in a cross country 5,000-meter race is 17:44.4 and 21:22.2 in the 6,000-meter race.
“I think it was really a perfect combination, she had such a great base from her years at Stony Brook that we were able to fine-tune and probably give a little bit more heavy focus towards the 800, which allowed her to blossom,” Waite said.
Another adjustment for Manning came in race tactics. Similar to his time working with Meyer, Waite emphasized the importance of Manning dictating her own race. She told him while at Stony Brook she would typically wait until just over halfway through the race to move up and start her kick with a quarter of the race left.
“I said just don’t take chances of allowing others to create your circumstances, create your own circumstances; take it into your own hands, and that’s how you’re going to be most successful,” Waite said. “That was a big shift I think for Holly this year — was that mental shift — and when she made that mental shift you started seeing all kinds of success.”
After her season opener at Virginia — where she eclipsed the 2:10 mark — Manning had her eyes set on the 800-meter outdoor school record of 2:07.02 heading into her second 800-meter race at the Temple Invitational. Even after receiving her second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine three days prior to the meet, she ran 2:07.65, putting her .63 seconds away from the record.
A 12-second personal best in the 1500-meter run at the Philadelphia Metropolitan Collegiate Invitational prepared Manning for her possible last meet of the season heading into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championships. Manning entered the meet with three goals in mind: set a new 800-best, break the school record and qualify for the NCAA regional meet.
“Being mentally prepared for that and not getting overwhelmed by all the expectations that I had for myself — was — I wouldn’t even say challenging, it was just something I had to work around,” Manning said.
Manning led the race from start to finish and clocked in a school record of 2:06.24, beating the next fastest time by over six seconds. Her time earned her a CAA conference title, the Delaware school record, the conference meet record, the stadium record and a trip to the NCAA regional meet.
After a brief stop at altitude in Utah for the BYU Cougar Invitational and breaking her own 800-meter record with a time of 2:05.99, Manning entered the NCAA East Regional Meet with a 2:04 on her mind. The first round saw her run a 2:06.09 and earned the 24th and final spot into the next round.
Entering the quarterfinal race, with a chance to run 2:04 and also qualify to run at the NCAA Championships in Oregon, Manning was in the same heat as Michaela Meyer. The familiar face allowed Manning to better understand how the race would unfold.
A month earlier at the CAA conference meet, Manning’s teammate, Jess Harding, knew Manning would take out aggressively and allowed Harding to pick off others as the pace slowed down.
“I was the Jess Harding in that situation at regionals, that helped me a lot to have a visual on what that looked like, to just go at 200 [meters] to go and pass people,” Manning said. “It was cool to have a familiar face.”
Manning finished her season that evening with a time of 2:04.82 and ended her first and only season as a member of Delaware’s track and field team. The New Zealand native plans to go back home and see her family for the first time in two years.
While she may not wear a Delaware or Stony Brook singlet anymore, Manning sees the goals she reached this season as just the beginning.
“The goal of the entire season was to PR, get to regionals and run a 2:04, and I did all of those things, so I really couldn’t have asked for more,” Manning said. “Going from a 2:07 to a 2:04 that was my goal for the season and then next year it’s exciting because I get to make new goals and run faster.”