Ceili McCabe of Vancouver, B.C., has been on a tear this year. In the summer, she set a massive personal best in the 3,000m steeplechase, only seconds off the Olympic qualifying time. This fall, she hasn’t missed a beat, winning four straight cross-country races, in notable XC meets like the Nuttycombe Invitational, NCAA Regionals, and her conference championship. This weekend she will go up against the top collegiate athletes at the best meet of the season, the 2021 NCAA Cross-Country Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., and she’s a strong contender to win the women’s individual title.
McCabe, who is a third-year sociology student at West Virginia University, has the chance to join an exclusive club of two Canadian women who have won an individual NCAA XC championship (Angela Chalmers and Sheila Reid). This won’t be McCabe’s first time competing at NCAAs. She was 29th at last year’s championship as a second-year student.
Five years ago, McCabe was a competitive soccer and basketball player at her high school, Little Flower Academy in Vancouver, and running in university wasn’t on her radar. “I always wanted to play soccer in university, until my senior year of high school,” says McCabe. “A few schools were reaching out for me to run for them, but I wanted to go to a program that understood my background coming from other sports.”
In her first year at West Virginia, McCabe was named conference rookie of the year and qualified to compete at the U20 Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark (in which she did not race). Although she had great results in her first season, she knew she wanted to be competitive in those lead packs at races. “In my first year, I was caught up in how deep the NCAA field was,” McCabe says. “I would be finishing with decent times in the middle of the pack, but many seconds off those top runners in the NCAA.”
McCabe knew that she wanted to be there: “The difference for me was loving my training,” she says. “Since there weren’t many races last year, I began getting into a rhythm with my workouts.” She began to see her hard work pay off this summer. “Qualifying for the Olympic Games this past summer was not on my radar, but to have come close so soon was a confidence booster.”
That confidence boost has been carried into the 2021 cross-country season: “Coming into this season, I knew I wanted to be competitive in every race,” McCabe says. She will go up against some of the best young distance runners in North America, including fellow B.C. runner Taryn O’Neill, who competes for Northern Arizona University. “I am looking forward to racing Taryn – she’s a phenomenal athlete who will be right up there at this weekend’s championships.”
Canadian Running is your home for all the news from the NCAA Cross Country Championship this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla.