Coast Guard All-Americans Mooney, Davis, will get a crack at the Division I life
New London — Kaitlyn Mooney and Josiah Davis figure they met about the third day of training the summer before their prep year at Marion (Alabama) Military Institute, both on their way to run track at the Coast Guard Academy.
"I think she said, 'Are you that kid who was going to run at Michigan?'" Davis said with a laugh.
And so it was fitting that their paths remained intertwined, a pair of All-America athletes, until five years later on billet night at Coast Guard, March 4, when both were called onto the stage simultaneously to receive their post-graduate assignments with the rest of the academy's senior class.
It was then they figured out what was happening.
Mooney and Davis, because of their wealth of talent and the extra year of eligibility granted to collegiate athletes this year due to the havoc caused by COVID-19, were each granted a waiver from the Coast Guard allowing them one extra year before they have to report for their five-year military commitment.
Mooney, at Rutgers, and Davis, at Florida A&M, will be allowed to attend one year of graduate school and compete at the Division I level before they become full-fledged members of the military again.
Both were placed in the NCAA transfer portal so that schools might contact them and had applied to grad school, but they were uncertain whether the unconventional move would be approved. Both received scholarships.
"I'd say it was a surprise to most people," Mooney said this week from the Coast Guard sports information office, joined by Davis. "We weren't for sure. We didn't hear anything about it for the longest time. I would have been happy to go out in the fleet, too. I'd say we were both surprised."
"There had been no decisions," Davis said. "We knew there was a possibility. But when they called us and it was just the two of us ... I was really excited. I didn't think it was really going to happen."
Said Mooney: "Walking back (to our seats), everybody was giving us high-fives."
Mooney, from Manahawkin, New Jersey, is an eight-time NCAA Division III All-American, the first three-time All-American in the history of the Coast Guard cross country program. She was the 2019 national champion in the 5,000 meters at the Division III Indoor Track and Field meet, setting the NCAA record in 16 minutes, 23.12 seconds.
She missed a portion of her junior cross country season with a possible stress fracture in her left leg and all of the following indoor track season after having her gallbladder removed. Then came COVID, as well as Mooney still suffering the effects of her gallbladder surgery.
Davis is a three-time All-American for Coast Guard, including a second-place finish in the 800 meters Saturday at the DIII Elite Indoor Track and Field Championships in Waverly, Iowa. Davis, the eighth seed, finished in 1:52.28, less than a second off the winning time.
A native of Saline, Michigan, Davis was an All-American and national champion in the distance medley relay at Saline High School and a two-time national qualifier in the 400 hurdles.
Davis was, yes, set to compete at the Division I level for Michigan; he had already attended his freshman orientation and had his class schedule set. He changed all that when he was offered the opportunity at Marion, previously wait-listed for the prep spot which could lead to a career at Coast Guard.
Davis' grandfather was an officer in the Coast Guard and his sister Jaime attended the Coast Guard Academy, as well.
"I was talking to my brothers who are thinking about coming here," Davis said. "They said, 'Why should I go to the academy?' It sounds super cliche, but the people here, students, faculty, are a different breed of human. It takes a different kind of person to commit yourself to service, military service. I don't think I would have the same relationship with kids at a civilian college."
And so Davis wound up at Marion, what he calls, "Nowhere, Alabama."
He and Mooney, while not officially on any athletic teams at Marion, trained under future men's and women's cross country coach Chris Lawrence, who was previously a grad assistant with the men's cross country team at the University of Alabama.
Davis and Mooney were part of a workout group under Lawrence which wound up just being them most of the time.
"We worked out for a long time every day," Mooney said. "We annoyed this guy (Lawrence). We would go knocking on his office. We'd be like, 'You're late.' ... Josiah would always be a lot faster than me."
The end of their Coast Guard Academy careers will come this spring. Both will compete in track, coached by Ethan Brown. It was Brown, usually the one out recruiting athletes, who helped Davis and Mooney sort through their Division I suitors. Although Mooney stuck close to home with Rutgers, Davis waded through offers that came in once he was in the transfer portal.
Mooney, a management major at Coast Guard, plans to get her grad degree in human resources. Davis is interested in government and noted that Florida A&M is located in the state's capital city of Tallahassee, where he would maybe have an opportunity to serve a required internship to conclude his grad year.
Aside from having the opportunity to live life as a Division I athlete for a year, there are a few other things that Mooney and Davis are looking forward to.
"I'm a little impulsive and during quarantine I bought a dog," Mooney said of her 10-pound imperial Shih Tzu, Remi. "My dog will be living with me. My apartment needs to allow pets."
"I'm excited to be able to cook and make food," Davis said.
The idea of grad school was initially brought to Mooney by her high school coach, Brian Zatorski, who had spoken to Rutgers assistant coach Matthew Jelley. Would Mooney be interested in using her extra year of eligibility somewhere other than Coast Guard?
"I said that would never happen," Mooney said. "Then I had a meeting with coach (Brown) and (Coast Guard athletic director) Dan Rose. ... I took my GREs on New Year's Day, 11 a.m. ... I'm excited. I'm going to miss this place, especially now we're going to a real world type of thing. Now there's bills to pay."
"It's a case of athletics opening the door for us to continue our education," Davis said. "I knew I'd have to (get my master's degree) at some point. It's a cool way to have a note of finality at the end of our athletic career. It's really the best of both worlds."