After strong showings last spring during the track and field season, Zac and Bella Daley (above) hope to translate that success into top 25, all-state finishes at the IHSA state cross country meet this fall. (Bill Stone/Contributor)

Fenwick senior Zac Daley and junior Bella Daley already are part of quite a team as the No. 5 and 6 children in their family of seven.

They’ve strengthened their bonds as important parts of another family — the Fenwick boys and girls cross country programs that often compete at the same meets.

The Oak Park pair are among the Friars’ top runners and have high hopes as they begin their respective third varsity seasons.

“It’s definitely a reason to talk [more]. We don’t run as much together now because our paces are so different, but I think it connects us in a way,” Zac said. 

“The same meets and overnights [for trips] connect us because we’re able to talk to the girls. Cross country is great and not like any other sport. I get both [teams’] sides of the story, too, so that’s funny. Sometimes good, sometimes bad but good because I know what’s going on. Our parents love it because they’ll go to one meet and we’re both there.”

Zac’s older brothers were Fenwick football players and wrestlers. Zac also joined wrestling but cross country became his fall sport.

“I had done a ton of sports. I wanted to go down a different path,” Zac said. “When I ran well sophomore year, I realized I could be good. Now, just running, being on the team, is more personal, thinking, clearing my mind.” 

Zac also was influenced by older sister Briana, who also played a major role in Bella joining cross country to train for basketball. 

A 2014 Fenwick graduate, Briana was a huge running star for the Friars who now coaches at IHSA Class 1A Willows Academy in Des Plaines. 

She also is Bella’s only sister.

“Briana was super successful,” Bella said. “Having her as a sister gave me high expectations and high goals, and then I realized I liked [running]. And then I wanted to be the best I could and to be as successful as her.” 

Bella contributed immediately to the varsity. As she continues to progress, she’s learned plenty from Zac’s approach to the sport.

“When he comes back from a run, he does all of the little stuff, does core [workouts] or goes to work out and do [resistance] band work. I see how all of the little stuff pays off,” Bella said. “And having a positive attitude while training super hard, even for the summer, that’s really cool. I hope that I can always stay positive throughout running.” 

Zac battled injuries as a freshman but his hard offseason work resulted in a breakthrough sophomore season.

“I went from a not really serious runner freshman year to absolutely loving it,” Zac said. “[The freshman injury] was kind of detrimental. Once I realized how much potential I had, I took it seriously.” 

The Daleys hope to contend for IHSA Class 2A cross country top-25, all-state honors. 

The 2020 IHSA-sanctioned season was limited by COVID-19 and ended with sectionals and no state meet. 

Both were all-regional with Bella third and Zac fourth and they finished 16th and 20th at sectionals, respectively. Zac considers regionals his best race ever (16:47 for 3.0 miles) based on personal feelings, not a personal-best time. 

At the boys state track and field meet in June, Zac was 12th in the 2A 3,200-meter run (10:28.30) in his first track season. He ran instead of competing another year of wrestling, whose abbreviated season was moved to the spring.

The previous Saturday at 2A girls state, Bella was 10th in the 1,600 (personal-best 5:21.13), 2.72 seconds from a top-nine, all-state medal.

“When I got 10th, I didn’t realize I could place that high. It made me excited to go into this cross country season,” Bella said. 

The Daleys still are active with their actual family. Zac is applying for an Evans Scholarship after being a long-time caddie at the Oak Park Country Club, where Bella and his other siblings have worked, sometimes simultaneously. 

“Everyone knows we’re there [by our white car],” Zac said laughing.

Besides the Division I schools connected with the scholarship, Zac is considering Division III Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), where Briana competed.

With her caddying, Bella sometimes cannot attend summer training but she does individual workouts often with Briana.

“If I have a three-mile tempo [run], she’ll be right there with me,” Bella said. “I’d say I’m in the same shape, but she’ll give me that little push. Every time I do a workout with her, it just feels better.” 

There’s even things Bella has taught her older brother to become better.

“Actually a big thing I learned from her is don’t compare yourself to others,” Zac said. “I still do, but when either one of us finds ourself doing that, it’s like, ‘Hey, you have to be your best self.’”

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