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Running Toward the Finish Line

The Heneses are a big part of the familial legacy of NC State cross country and track and field. All-American and ACC champion Elly Henes will graduate with a degree in psychology this spring.

NC State cross country runner Elly Henes hugging her coach
NC State distance runner Elly Henes celebrates with her mother, NC State women's cross country and track and field coach Laurie Henes.

Editor’s note: On Saturday, June 12, 2021, in the final race of her collegiate career, NC State graduate student Elly Henes won an NCAA individual championship in the 5,000-meter run, just as her mom — NC State women’s cross country and track and field coach Laurie Henes — did exactly 30 years ago. Learn about the special bond the entire Henes family has to distance running and to NC State in this story from last year, when Elly Henes graduated with a degree in psychology.

When you grow up in a distance running family — and NC State cross country/track and field has one of the biggest extended families in all of college athletics — you are always mindful of the finish line.

One of those approaches is this weekend for senior runner Elly Henes, the reigning ACC and NCAA Southeast Region cross country champion who will receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Funny thing about runners, though: There’s always another finish line ahead.

For Henes, the oldest daughter of Laurie and Bob Henes, the first finish line was a long time coming, even if it seemed inevitable that she would follow in her parents’ well-paced, distance-running footsteps.

The final race of her collegiate career is still more than a year away, since she redshirted the spring of her freshman season and has one more year of eligibility in both indoor and outdoor track and field.

An Extended Family

She continues to extend her family’s running legacy. Last November, three decades after her parents each won individual conference and regional awards, Elly Henes not only won the ACC title and the NCAA Southeast championship, but her 10th-place, All-American performance at the NCAA Championship meet gave the Wolfpack its third top 5 finish in the last five years.

It was an impressive conclusion to her cross country career.

“Winning the ACC individual and team title and getting top 5 at the national meet were really big for me,” Elly Henes says. “Especially it being my last year in cross country. We had a close team and it meant a lot to us to perform well at all levels.”

For decades, Wolfpack cross country and track and field has been one big extended family, especially for the Heneses.

Laurie Gomez Henes was an ACC cross country champion and the winner of the 1991 NCAA champion in the 5,000-meter run.

Laurie and Bob Henes met while students at NC State in the late 1980s, when both were members of head coach Rollie Geiger’s highly successful running programs. Between them, they won 15 All-American honors and more than a dozen ACC titles in the two sports. Laurie capped off her brilliant athletics career by winning the NCAA championship in the 5,000 meters at the 1991 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Laurie Henes then joined Geiger’s staff as an assistant coach the following year and has been with NC State ever since, earning a promotion to head coach of the women’s cross country team in 2006 and to head coach of the women’s track and field team in 2019. She is currently the caretaker of the Wolfpack’s NCAA-record 28 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championships.

Last fall, just after Elly Henes was recognized for winning the ACC individual title and the league’s first-ever Performer of the Year Award, Laurie Henes accepted the ACC Coach of the Year Award for the fifth time in her career.

A Late Starter

Elly Henes, however, stepped to the starting line relatively late, never really catching the running bug until she was cut from her middle school soccer team. Even then, she was a fairly low-mileage, off-and-on trainer who ran at Cary’s Green Hope High School. There, she had parental support, but not parental coaching.

“We definitely encouraged her to run, though she might say forced, in about the eighth or ninth grade,” Laurie Henes says. “And while she was successful, she was much lower mileage than a lot of athletes at her level, much less tied to her split times on the watch, getting enough sleep or eating right than a lot of distance runners at that level.”

Elly Henes did just fine with minimal parental input, winning three state cross country titles and one track championship.

Her transition to college — becoming a follower behind strong leaders — took a while, but it taught her what she needed to do as she matured in the program and as the relationship with her mother — now coach — changed.

“That’s the thing,” says the venerable Geiger, whose long list of career achievements includes last year’s induction into the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Association’s coaches hall of fame. “Laurie was never mom on the track and never coach at home. Keeping those two things separated were good for them both.”

Elly Henes leads the Pack and the pack.

A Bright Future

Now, as Henes prepares to graduate from NC State on Saturday, she has academic and athletics options that will stretch through next spring and after her college career is over. Because she redshirted one season of track and field, she still has eligibility to compete next year.

She can take graduate classes or begin the certification process to become sports psychologist, something in which she would like to one day have her own practice.

Or perhaps she could coach, like her mother.

Certainly, she and her Wolfpack teammates have benefited from the sports psychologist sessions they have shared through the years in a sport that can be mentally grueling and exhausting. Laurie Henes says that leaning on sports psychology just as much as training runs, strength and conditioning and nutritionist advice has been a great benefit to her program, particularly over the last five years.

It’s something Elly Henes would like to explore.

“I want to continue running as long as I can and see where that can take me, but sports psychology is something I am interested in,” she says. “I’ve just noticed how much mental health and the mental side of sports is so important.

“It’s something I’m passionate about and something I really want to pursue once I’m done with running.”

That final finish line is still well in the distance.