It’s not unusual for a high school athlete to stand out in two sports, but this is a little different. Connor Nisbet has excelled in two sports that call for lots of running, but one demands short sprints and the other long strides.
In the end, the long strides outran the short sprints.
Nisbet was a highly ranked junior tennis player at Wilmington Friends School and tennis has always been a big part of his family life – his father, Bruce Nisbet, was a Division III All-American at Haverford College in 1995 and Connor and his siblings, Kyle (now 15) and Aubrey (13), basically grew up with rackets in their hands.
“But while tennis was our focus, we also did other sports, like soccer and swimming,” Connor said. “So, we were brought up not only to love tennis, but competition and sports [in general].”
Then, when he was in the fifth grade, Connor started running to keep in shape for tennis, and when he was 12, he ran his first 5k race with his father (and beat him).
“After this, I realized I really liked running,” he said. “Not only did I love the sport, but the team dynamic was incredibly important to me.”
So, Nisbet continued to play competitive tournament-level tennis as well as run track and cross country. But when he finished his sophomore year, he knew it was time to focus on one thing.
“While I loved both sports, I realized I couldn’t compete at a high national level at both,” he said. “Partially because I like the team atmosphere of running more, and partially because I was progressing well at running and, frankly, not progressing in tennis, I decided to fully focus on track and cross country.”
Paul Nemeth, the cross country and track coach at Friends, was impressed at the way Nisbet could juggle track, tennis and academics and excel at them all, but he wasn’t surprised at his success.
“Connor was a standout runner from the start,” Nemeth said. “He’s a self-motivated, driven, focused young man. Never, ever did Connor need a push during workouts. He worked as hard as the seniors and was part of that group at every workout. He has the ability to push himself beyond what is normal, especially at his age.
“When Connor decided to back off competitive tennis and concentrate year-round on cross country and track,” Nemeth added, “that was the dawning of Connor’s rapid rise to the level he now enjoys.”
The results show the wisdom of that decision. Nisbet has won the last three Division II state cross country championships and the Victor A. Zwolak Award as the top cross country runner in Delaware.
And after winning Division II state championships in the 1,600 and 3,000 meters and finishing second to Napoleon Hernandez of Tatnall in the 800 meters, he also won the Thomas H. Fort Award, given to the state’s most valuable performer in outdoor track and field. Plus, he won titles at 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the state indoor meet.
That impressive resume has landed him at Princeton University – Nisbet will compete in cross country and indoor and outdoor track for the Tigers.
And if there was any question about Nisbet’s ability to compete at a national level, he answered it this past weekend, when he finished third in the Footlocker Northeast Cross Country Regionals at Van Cortland Park in Manhattan.
That qualified him for the Footlocker Nationals in San Diego on Dec. 8, which features the top 40 boys and girls in the nation. That’s been his entire focus this season – to land an All American spot in San Diego.
Nisbet said his success is due to his mental preparation even more than his physical preparation, and he credits his father for that.
“Mental toughness is one of the hardest aspects of sports,” he said. “I attribute a huge part of my mental toughness to my dad, for instilling the importance of mental toughness and the edge that mental toughness can give you over your competition.
“One of my favorite lines that I took from tennis was ‘loving the battle.’ Loving the battle not only means persevering through the pain or grueling parts of running, but flipping it around and appreciating the hard parts.”
Nisbet turned down multiple scholarship opportunities, but he chose Princeton even though Ivy League schools don’t give athletic scholarships.
“For me, the most important part of my college decision was trusting and connecting with the team and liking the school as an academic institution,” he said. “I would be hard pressed to find a better group of guys than Princeton’s track and cross-country teams, or a better coach than Coach Vig [head coach Jason Vigilante].
“Academically, it’s hard to compare anything to the opportunities at Princeton,” he added, “or the ambiance of the campus.”
Nisbet certainly seems prepared for the academic side of college, as well at the athletic – he currently has a GPA of 4.01 at Wilmington Friends and plans to apply to the engineering program at Princeton.
“I’m not really sure what field of engineering I want to go into,” he said, “but I’m sure I’ll find a good fit.”