For her trademark shades that she wears during races, Ava Mahoney ’24 is anecdotally known around the Northeast Conference running community as “the girl from Merrimack who wears sunglasses.”
But from now on, she will be known as “the girl from Merrimack who wears sunglasses and won the 2023 Northeast Conference championship.”
The nursing major on Oct. 28 captured Merrimack’s first Division I cross country title, beating 80 other runners by seven seconds over a 3.1-mile course. In addition to the victory, Mahoney earned all-conference honors and the NEC Outstanding Performer award.
“There was a lot of joy and emotions,” said Mahoney of her feelings crossing the finish line. “All those hard workouts and the daily double runs, all while being a nursing student, it was all worth it in that moment.”
After finishing in the top 30 in the previous three conference cross country championship meets, Mahoney said she didn’t think she would get to the level of being in a position to win this year. But after strategizing with coaches Chris Cameron and Cayla Pellegrini and seeing how other teams were performing throughout the season, it became more of a possibility.
“The course for the NECs was the same three loops, so I knew exactly where my parents would be each lap and where Coach Chris and Coach Cayla would be, so I just broke each loop into three chunks and focused on where they all were along the course,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney credits Cameron and Pellegrini with being two of the main reasons she ultimately decided to attend Merrimack College. While going through the recruiting process and meeting with coaches, Mahoney said she didn’t get much support for her plans to run collegiately and pursue a nursing degree; until she met with Cameron and Pellegrini.
“They were the only coaches who said ‘We will make it work,’” Mahoney said. “I just felt at ease talking to them about pursuing both of my dreams and without having running and nursing interfere with each other too much.”
Mahoney just completed an obstetric and gynecologic clinical and is strongly considering going into that specialty. “The professors and instructors at Merrimack really care about us and are here to support us,” she said.
But before graduating and entering the nursing profession, Mahoney and her teammates will compete in the NCAA Division I Northeast Regional, the biggest meet the program has ever participated in, on Friday, Nov. 10, at 11 a.m. at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.