CGA's Mooney poised to make a run at NCAA cross country title

Coast Guard Academy's Kaitlyn Mooney (510) competes during a cross country meet earlier this season. (photo courtesy of CGA athletics)
Coast Guard Academy's Kaitlyn Mooney (510) competes during a cross country meet earlier this season. (photo courtesy of CGA athletics)

Kaitlyn Mooney
Kaitlyn Mooney

Kaitlyn Mooney doesn't believe in following a pre-race routine.

It could potentially distract her from her mission.

"I don't have any specific routine," Mooney said. "I'm usually the last one to the start line just because I'm running behind. I'm very unorganized getting to the start line and I usually forget something."

While Mooney may usually be the one last to the start line, she's often been the first to finish during her remarkable Coast Guard Academy cross country career.

The talented sophomore is considered one of the top contenders to win the individual crown on Saturday at the NCAA Division III women's cross country championship at the Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wisc.

Last season, Mooney placed a program-best fourth in the nationals and earned All-American status. She was the highest freshman finisher since 2013.

"I feel like that definitely helps," Mooney said of 2017 NCAA Championship race experience. "Last year, I was unprepared and didn't know really what to expect because I was a freshman. I feel more prepared this year. Hopefully, I'll have a good race.

"I'm definitely excited."

Mooney has had almost nothing but good races since arriving at the Coast Guard Academy.

Her resume includes being a two-time winner of both the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference women's runner of the year and New England Region women's cross country athlete of the year. She recently captured her second straight NCAA Division III New England Championship, beating the runner-up by 20 seconds.

So what makes Mooney a special runner?

"Certainly she's extremely, extremely talented," coach Greg Ahnrud said. "Beyond that, she's very laid back, doesn't get stressed out, and doesn't worry about stuff. But once she gets to the line and it's time to race, she's a totally different person. She gets very serious, gets very motivated and gets very motivated by the competition around her and wanting to beat them.

"The other big part of it that relates more to the academy, she's really good about prioritizing her time, getting her work done as soon as possible so she can get the rest she needs so she can take care of herself. For me, as a coach, that's the biggest thing at the academy. ... She does an awesome job with all that stuff and it makes a huge difference."

Life as a student-athlete at the Coast Guard Academy also means arriving for the fall season behind in conditioning.

Mooney spent the summer on assignment in Boston and Hawaii, leaving little time to workout. She's squeezed in early morning runs before starting work and did strength training later in the day.

Gradually, she caught up. She began to turn the corner in mid-October, winning the Connecticut College Invitational.

"Once we got to that meet, she was in really good shape and really ready to go," Ahnrud said.

With Mooney leading the pack, the Coast Guard women's cross country team had its best season since 1994, according to Ahnrud. The Bears fell just short of qualifying for nationals as a team.

Saturday could be a special day for Mooney and the Coast Guard Academy.

Only one runner returns that finished ahead of Mooney from last year's NCAA Division III Championship. John Hopkins University's Ellie Clawson, who took third, is back.

Mooney will stick to her game plan and make adjustments when necessary.

"We'll have a goal of how fast she should try and run the first mile and then how she should work forward from there," Ahnrud said. "Not necessarily focused on what other people do, more just her running her own race. Because I think if she can do that, she probably has a really good shot to win. That's the way we're approaching it."

As far as personal goals, Mooney says she doesn't have any except to give it her all and enjoy the day.

"I don't put pressure on myself," Mooney said. "I just take it for fun."

If Mooney has good fortune and good health on her side, she'll have a great shot at qualifying for nationals the next two seasons as well and winning an individual crown.

"There's no reason she can't be up there competing for the top spot all four years," Ahnrud said. "That would far and away be the best result for a (Coast Guard Academy) cross country runner ever."

Now that's one routine that Mooney would welcome.

"That would be nice," Mooney said. "I guess we'll see."

g.keefe@theday.com

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