WILMINGTON – When Marnie Giunta sees Lydia Olivere clap her hands as she approaches the starting line, she has a good feeling it will be a good day for Padua, where Giunta coaches the cross country and track teams.
“She doesn’t even realize she does that but every time she does ‘the clap’ on the line, I’ve always seen a special performance from Lydia,” the coach said.
Giunta has seen a lot of clapping since Olivere burst upon the high school running scene as a freshman two years ago. Since then, Olivere’s profile has only continued to rise. She has been breaking records on courses all over Delaware and has established herself as a national force in cross country.
That’s not surprising if you look a little deeper. Olivere comes from premier Delaware running stock. Her grandfather, Louis, coached Ursuline for more than 20 years and is a member of the Delaware Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Ursuline Academy Athletic Hall of Fame. Her father, Paul, was an individual state champion at Mount Pleasant, while her mother, Linda, earned all-state honors at Padua. Linda Olivere was then Linda Marini, and the Marini clan has produced multiple all-state runners.
The talent was passed down not only to Lydia, but also to her two older sisters, Lindsey and Maddie. Lindsey was all-state in cross country and track at Archmere Academy and went on to compete at Duke University. Maddie is a senior at Padua and earned second-team all-state honors this season.
“It’s definitely a family affair,” Olivere said earlier this month while spending a few minutes sitting down at Padua. “My aunts and uncles ran, and their kids run now. My whole family has been running. It’s really nice that I can share that with everyone, and it’s something that we all love. I was never pressured into anything; it was my own doing.”
Olivere is etching her name into the record books with each passing season. She has won three individual cross country state championships, including last month at Brandywine Creek State Park, where she set a course record with a time of 18:23.10. Her closest competitor was nearly a minute and a half behind her. She is the fifth girl in state history to win three titles; next year, she will attempt to match Lisa Klein’s record of four, set with Tower Hill and Tatnall from 2001-04.
Giunta has seen a number of superb distance runners with the Pandas, but said Olivere is the best.
“She has such a range because she is better the longer the race, but she also has closing speed, which is unusual for kids whose strength is the longer distances,” Giunta said.
The high school season ended with another championship for the Pandas, but Olivere just kept on running. She placed third in the Nike Cross Regionals Southeast in Cary, N.C., in late November, earning a spot in the Nike Cross Nationals on Dec. 3 in Portland, Ore. There, she came in 24th among 199 entrants.
“It was really, really cool. I went out really fast, a lot faster than I was expecting, but other than that, it felt like any other race that I’ve been in before. It was a really cool experience to run against such respectful competition,” she said.
Olivere, 16, said a growth spurt had something to do with her dominant season, but a lot of it was mental. She said she was a lot tougher this season and did not put as many expectations on herself as she had in the past. She had won the county individual championship as a freshman but lost it the next season.
“Fear definitely overtook me last year, which was not good. So this year, my mindset was totally different,” she said. “I was running for the team. Team first and foremost, then myself and my family. That was a lot different. Just having a lot of fun. Be excited for competitions, and each race is a learning experience. I just tried to key off of each race for the next one. I think that was the big difference.”
Giunta said Olivere’s demeanor benefits the entire team. She is always complimenting and encouraging her teammates, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
“Everyone can see you can be good and still have fun without being serious all of the time,” Giunta said. “But when it’s time to work, you work hard. She demonstrates that every day.”
Louis Olivere might be a coaching legend at Ursuline, but when Lydia was an eighth-grader at St. Mary Magdalen School in Wilmington, she decided on the Raiders’ rival. Maddie was a freshman at Padua, and a bunch of cousins had been Pandas.
“I remember my older cousins who graduated from here. I remember them having a ton of fun, and when Maddie came here when I was in eighth grade. I would always be around at the meets to cheer and support her,” Olivere said.
Maddie would talk about how much fun the cross country and track teams had, and how it was such a positive experience. Her younger sister wanted to be a part of that. It was the right move.
“I love the community,” she said. “Everyone’s friends, everyone smiles and waves, even if it’s just the smallest thing. The teachers are amazing. I go to teachers that I’ve never had for classes. They’re just so welcoming and able to help you.”
Between academics and athletics, Olivere keeps plenty busy. She estimates that she runs 20 to 25 miles a week. Sundays are a day of rest. When cross country ends, she turns her attention to indoor track, where she excels at – no surprise – the distance events. Last season, she was the state champion in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. Her time in the 3,200 was a state record for sophomores. Then, in the spring, she helped the Pandas to a state title, setting a meet record in the 3,200 and winning the 1,600- and 800-meter runs.
“During cross country, I say that’s my favorite season, but then during spring track, when you’re in race shape and running your (personal records) and everything, it changes again. But I really like track,” she said.
Olivere likes to keep her focus on the next step. Right now, she said her goals for herself and for Padua are to stay healthy and to win another state championship. One of the ways she keeps her body in shape is by taking regular ice baths.
“They’re only enjoyable in the summer. It only takes like five minutes, but they help a lot. It’s definitely hard in the winter,” she said.
Off the track, she likes to hang out with her friends and family. When she has time, she likes to help out with the cross country and track programs at St. Mary Magdalen. Olivere watches the younger kids run and remembers herself a few years ago and wonders who will emerge as the next high school standouts.
“It’s just awesome seeing them do so well,” she said.
Later this academic year, she will turn her attention to her college entrance tests. She would like to run for a Division I college program and has gotten some interest from coaches. She is leaning toward a career in the health sciences, but that’s a decision that’s miles and miles – and a whole lot of clapping – in the future.