Most Division I athletes have been competing in their sport for a significant portion of their lives.
But when freshman Margaret Coogan joined women’s cross country earlier this year, it was her first time participating in the sport.
Despite her inexperience, the Exeter, N.H. native was able to use her athletic ability to keep up with the team and contribute to the GW’s season, including three top-half finishes for the Colonials and a team victory at the Mount St. Mary’s Duals in September.
Most recently, she set a personal record in the 5K with a 19:30 finish in the Atlantic 10 championship Saturday. Her time slotted her in 64th overall and fourth place for a Colonials squad that ended up finishing in sixth.
“I was really surprised at how well I felt during the race because it was supposed to be a really hard course,” Coogan said. “I basically took everything my coach had said the week prior to the race in mind. I tried to kill the hills and gain some distance in the back portion of the race.”
Following her performance, the A-10 named Coogan to the Women’s All-Rookie Team Tuesday afternoon along with seven other runners who finished between 38th and 64th during last weekend’s race. She was the only Colonials freshman competing on the women’s side.
Head coach Terry Weir said after the meet Saturday that her performance stood out, not just for her youth but because of her recent introduction to cross country. She previously played soccer every fall and ran both indoor and outdoor track in high school.
Even though she has been successful, Coogan said she faced some hurdles transitioning into college cross country because of the difference in distance for both training and competition in the sport. She said she knew that she would have to adapt because she always planned on running in college, so she incorporated long runs into her summer routine to prepare for the season.
Throughout the year, Weir has provided Coogan with opportunities to race in almost all of the team’s meets without setting high expectations, she said.
“Every race he would just say go out there and do what you can, don’t worry about the times, just compete and compete hard,” Coogan said. “I never felt really pressured to show anything too serious because this is my first season and he wanted me to have fun.”
Her personal record for the 6K, 23:19 at the Paul Short Invitational, slightly outpaces her time at the A-10 championship, but Coogan said the shorter races align more with her strengths because of her track background.
When it comes time for the spring season, Coogan said she expects that she will return to her comfort zone with races less than half the length of cross country competitions.
“I will probably cut down more toward the one mile,” she said. “I’m guessing I’ll drop distance a bit because that’s what I’m used to running.”
Coogan said her experience this fall – as opposed to playing soccer in high school – will better prepare her physically because of the number of miles she has already logged on her legs.
“I was always a bit nervous to get on the track again,” she said. “I would feel out of shape compared to the cross country girls, but now I just want to get on the track and see what I can do based on my training.”
Including Coogan, GW’s roster features 20 runners set to return next year – nine of whom were among the team’s 10 racers in the last race. She said she expects the young team to continue its improvement and rise to the top of the conference in the future.
“If everyone is healthy, if everyone is competitive, we are definitely in coming years looking towards top three teams in our conference,” Coogan said.
Coogan is now set to race in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Nov. 10 in Bethlehem, Pa., where the team concluded 2016 with a record-tying 15th place finish.