Cross country runner Kaitlyn Mooney may just be a freshman, but she has already crafted an impressive college resume.
The 2016 Southern Regional High School graduate shattered several school records at the United States Coast Guard Academy in her first season.
She became the first women’s runner in school history to win the NCAA Division III New England Championship on Nov. 11.
She crossed the finish line in 20 minutes, 22 seconds, breaking her own school record for the second time in a 6-kilometer race.
Then last weekend 2016 Press Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year finished fourth at the NCAA Division III championships.
Her time of 20:48.3 among 279 runners earned her All-American honors. The next freshman finished 21st.
“I’m happy with the race,” Mooney said of the NCAA Championships. “It’s been a good season and now I have some racing experience and (I’m) ready for indoor.”
Coast Guard coach Ethan Brown said Mooney has exceeded all expectations for her freshman season.
“Kaitlyn ran a great race (Saturday),” Brown said. “She meant business (and) showed that she could hang with the top runners in D-III. She has been a great addition to the program and we feel she has brought a lot of energy to the team.”
Mooney originally broke the school record in her first ever collegiate 6K race, finishing second in 22:02 at the Williams College Purple Valley Classic on Sept. 23.
She then broke that record on Oct. 14 at the Connecticut College Cross Country Invitational with a first-place finish in 21:35.8.
“It’s a great feeling, especially at a school like this,” Mooney said. “It’s a militarily tough school, so running here is kind of nice and it is like an escape. Also, it is nice to see my hard work pay off.”
When Mooney graduated from Southern, she enrolled at Marion Military Institute, a preparatory school before attending the Coast Guard.
Mooney’s focus was mainly on academics, but when she had free time it was spent training for this season.
“I think a lot of people admire the effort and the hard work she has put in,” Brown said. “I think how she carries herself is almost inspirational to others… it’s contagious.”
After one year at Marion, she transferred to the Coast Guard, where tuition and all other expenses are paid for by the government in exchange for a five-year Coast Guard commitment after graduation.
And much physical training and challenging coursework are also involved.
“My freshman year has gone well,” Mooney said. “Everyone sees me running, but they don’t know what we have to go through each week. It’s really tough, but, so far, I think I have been handling myself really well.”
In addition to setting school marks, Mooney also won the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Rookie and Runner of the Year award and earned the NEWMAC Runner of the Week award four times this season.
“To see someone succeed at that level is just really exciting,” Brown said. “It is history in the making.”
Mooney broke the school record for a 5K race on Sept. 30 when she ran 17:07.5 at the Saratoga Invitational, finishing first out of 221 runners.
Mooney’s also earned the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association New England Region Athlete of the Year after her record-setting season.
“We have some really good coaches here,” said Mooney when asked about her achievements. “The workouts they give us are very challenging and help a lot, and I like to challenge myself.”
But Brown has a different opinion on Mooney’s early-career success.
“She is so relaxed when it comes time for key pressure moments,” he said. “She can do well under pressure and has laser-like focus. ... She just wants to come out and be the best she can every day.”