Sean Cleary returns north of the border to find West Virginia’s next big runner

From 2007 to 2009, West Virginia won a Big East Championship in 2007, placed ninth, fourth and sixth respectively at the NCAA Championships, and had All-American runners Keri Bland, Marie-Louise Asselin and Clara Grandt .

Bland and Grandt were local girls who really thrived under Cleary’s tutelage, while Asselin was a coveted prep artist who was also originally from Canada. West Virginia’s success in the NCAA cross country competition continued in 2011 and 2014 with two eighth places.

But the program was a big hit in 2016 when Millie Palladino from Morgantown transferred to Providence after her second season. She became a three-time Big East champion and five-time All-American for the Friars and now races professionally for New Balance.

Her departure had a huge impact on the Mountaineer program and also sparked a chain reaction of top local girls engaging in other schools. Something similar happened to Marty Pouchkine’s men’s program in the mid-1980s when he transferred two of his top riders, Steve Taylor and Jean-Pierre Ndayisenga, to Virginia Tech and George Mason after the team bombed them. NCAA.

It took Pushkin about a decade to dig that hole once he started recruiting Canadian artists such as Bob Donker and Cleary, who stayed at WVU after his running career ended to coach long-distance runners. male and female. Since 1997, the four-time Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year has led 11 women’s cross-country teams to national championships and is approaching 100 All-Americans in total in track and field and cross-country.

And once again, Cleary returned to his old playground to give the Mountaineer distance program a big adrenaline rush with the Canadian McCabe.

In the space of six months, Ceili has gone from being a simple American college runner to one of the best up and coming young artists in the country – and maybe even the world by next summer.

Interestingly enough, its rise began when the world went into lockdown in 2020 due to COVID-19. She couldn’t go home and couldn’t compete, so all she did was train and train and train again.

“I wasn’t running very well, and that (the lockdown) really gave me a lot of time to run,” said McCabe. Her roommate, Amy Cashin, is an Australian Olympian and the two have been training together daily. “I think having someone to do things day in and day out and stay in a daily routine has been very helpful.

“Since high school I’ve really enjoyed training on a routine like this, and I think the consistency over that time has made me more of a runner than someone who could do a race because that I didn’t have a lot of physical form, ”she admitted.

McCabe’s rapid transformation has been nothing short of amazing, according to his coach.

Her confidence level rose last spring when she placed sixth at the National Outdoor Championships in steeplechase, and when she started running cross country last fall, she was 45 seconds faster than ‘she wasn’t in first grade.

This fall, McCabe won the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, which featured most of the top college programs, placed first at the Big 12 Championships and also won the Mid-Atlantic regional race to qualify for this year’s national championships.

Then, she finished third in the NCAAs last week, becoming WVU’s all-time top graduate, male or female, surpassing Kate Harrison’s eighth place in 2011 and Carl Hatfield’s 10th place for men in 1968.

The runner who beat McCabe, Whittni Orton of BYU, is a sixth-year COVID senior, while second-place Mercy Chelangat of Alabama is a fourth-year junior who was last year’s national champion. When Cleary spoke to McCabe after the race, he asked her if she was thrilled or a little upset that she was third.

McCabe said she was a little angry with herself because she was so close to winning a national title.

“I always want to put myself in the best position to win,” she explained. “I just wanted to be more competitive up to the (finish) line. For me, before the competition, I know the winner and the runner-up will probably continue and race professionally, so they were more than able to beat me, but I wanted to have that advantage and push them a little harder than me. think I did.

“You still want to get them to the line the best you can, and that’s something I was considering doing and I haven’t really done it, so from that point of view it’s frustrating to watch back, but I’m also definitely lucky to have the opportunity to hope that I can put this into action a little better next time, ”she said.

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