Mooney's career off to record-breaking start at Coast Guard Academy
New London — Like your typical Coast Guard Academy freshman, Kaitlyn Mooney has a ton on her mind.
Adjusting to the whole military experience can be overwhelming at times for any newcomer.
Then there's the demanding academic workload.
So thinking about cross country — outside of her regular workouts and weekend races — isn't high on her list of priorities.
"Here, it's just hard," Mooney said. "Sometimes you have to forget about cross country and remember all your other obligations, military and academic." ... It's hard to focus on one thing."
Mooney is giving opposing Division III teams something to think about.
She's already set two program records, earned New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference runner of the week honors three times and been named a United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division III national runner of the week.
In her very first collegiate race, the Trinity Invitational at Wickham Park in Manchester on Sept. 9, Mooney finished with a winning time of 19 minutes, 1.5 seconds, and beat the runnerup by almost 46 seconds while helping the Bears take second place overall.
All she did in CGA's next two meets was break the program record for six-kilometers and five-kilometers, posting times of 22:02 and 17:07.5, respectively. The previous 5K record dated back to 1995 when All-American Tammy Wilcox ran a 17:48.
The only runner to beat Mooney in the 6K race at the Williams College Purple Valley Classic in Williamstown, Mass., on Sept 23, was Ithaca College's Taryn Cordani, a two-time All-American.
Mooney, one of New Jersey's top 3,200-meter runners while at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, says attending Marion Military Institute in Alabama helped ease her transition to Coast Guard Academy life.
"She's definitely exceeded some expectations on her ability to adapt to the program," coach Ethan Brown said. "That's one of our main goals with all the freshmen. We love to see PRs and love to see great performances, but we want them to come into the program and not adjust to only the running and the training, but adjust to the lifestyle here. That's a big thing."
Her record-setting accomplishments have caught her by surprise.
Mooney figured she was at a disadvantage entering her first season because her summer training was limited due to participating in eight weeks of Swab Summer on campus.
Meanwhile, her future competitors were busy piling up the training miles.
"Because we had Swab Summer and I didn't have good base training, I had no expectations," Mooney said. "Before the season, I was talking to my parents and said I don't want to race cross country because I didn't think I'd do well without base training.
"But it's been pretty good so far."
Mooney takes her standout performances in stride. She lets herself enjoy her results only for a short time. There's always room for improvement, she says.
"She's so nonchalant," Brown said. "She gets along so well with the team because she's so humble. They really are feeding off of her as well and the team feeds off of each other. It's kind of cool to see that.
"It's still new to her."
Brown is still learning about Mooney's strengths and weaknesses. He is having Mooney train with some members of the men's cross country team to push her pace.
It didn't take long for Brown to find out that Mooney is a fierce competitor, a trait that was developed in part from growing up with three brothers.
Her preference on race day is to start fast and stay in contact with lead runners.
"Her high school coach described her as a warrior," Brown said. "I feel like she's a competitive person. When it gets down to the wire, she's going to fight for it."
While it's still early in Mooney's CGA running career, it's hard not to think about her potential.
The biggest meets of the season are still ahead. After competing in the Connecticut College Invitational on Saturday in Harkness State Park in Waterford, Coast Guard has a two-week break before the NEWMAC Championships in Boston, Mass.
Then there's the NCAA Division III New England Championships on Nov. 11.
"Based on the times she's run, she can go pretty far in the season," Brown said. "The thing we're trying to emphasis is the experience factor at the college level. With only having three races and the fourth this weekend before we really get to the bigger level, that's what we're trying to focus on. ... It will be interesting to see how she'll respond when she is side-by-side with people and not necessarily leading the race."
That's for Brown to think about.
Mooney will remain focused on the daily challenges at Coast Guard. Dreaming about qualifying for the NCAA Championships someday can wait.
"That would be cool; I'd like that," Mooney said. "I'm sure if I was at a normal college, yeah, I'd be talking about that. But, here, you just don't have time. You go to practice, you do what you do and you leave and you go eat and you do your homework."
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