After receiving their acceptance letters, most Ivy League athletes expect to never again endure the long, nerve-wracking and time-consuming recruiting process. But when an opportunity to be recruited became available this year, Yale women’s cross country captain Kelli Reagan ’18 went through the process again in order to continue doing what she loves.
The NCAA gives student-athletes four years of eligibility during their collegiate careers. If an injury sidelines an athlete for one of those seasons, the athlete can make up the lost season during the year after their final semester of college. Reagan, who will graduate from Yale this May, will follow this path next fall as a master’s student at Notre Dame.
“It was nothing that I had ever planned for or anticipated happening,” Reagan said. “Up until [I got injured] I was totally planning to use all of my eligibility at Yale, but then I found out in December that I had an extra season and I guess I just have some athletic goals that I’m not ready to let go of yet.”
Reagan suffered a lower back injury last year that forced her to miss the entire 2017 cross country season, but it took several months for her to realize she had a season of eligibility remaining and could continue competing at the collegiate level after graduation.
Reagan is not the lone Bulldog to use leftover eligibility after an injury limited her Yale career. Former team captain Francis Schmeide ’17 ran at Virginia after graduating from Yale while Meredith Rizzo ’17 competed for Georgetown this past fall. Track and field captain Dana Klein ’18 will join her classmate Reagan in using up eligibility next fall, with Klein slated to compete as a graduate student for the University of San Francisco.
Before battling injury later in her career, Reagan proved to be a consistent and versatile runner early in her time at Yale. In her rookie cross country season, she finished in the top half of runners at her first Ivy cross country meet, and followed her performance at the conference championship with a 77th place finish out of 275 runners at NCAA Regionals. During her sophomore campaign, Reagan shined at Ivies again, improving to an 18th place finish, and followed with a 55th place finish at Regionals.
Reagan has had some strong showings on the track as well — finishing sixth in the 3,000 meter run at the 2015 ECAC Championships — and also earned a spot on Yale’s top 10 list with a 35:23.76 finish in the 10,000 meter run during her sophomore outdoor track season. Yet her teammates feel her contributions as a leader off the track are even greater than her accomplishments on it.
“When I think about Kelli, what comes to mind most is character,” Calleigh Higgins ’18 said. “When no one is watching, she undoubtedly is working the hardest, and when the attention is turned to her, she leads quietly through example.”
Although Reagan did not have a formal official visit at Notre Dame leading up to her decision, she felt a sense of familiarity and comfort there. Not only was it her father’s alma mater, but a place she had visited throughout her childhood. Just last week, Reagan also had the opportunity to meet her future coaches and teammates after they crossed paths at the Raleigh Relays.
However, comfort was not the only element Reagan cared about while surveying potential graduate programs and universities. Throughout her time at Yale, Reagan brought the same passion she has for running to the classroom. As an economics major, Reagan said she enjoyed the largely theoretical and conceptual approach a liberal arts college like Yale took in terms of teaching economics, but is looking for a more application-minded education as she pursues a master’s degree in management at the Mendoza College of Business.
“I’ve very much [been] looking forward to applying all of the things that I’ve learned here in economics into something that I think is going to impact the world in a specific way,” Reagan said. “I think I’m going to finally have the opportunity to learn some ‘real-world skills’ as they say.”
Reagan has thrived on both the track and the cross country course, but noted that she prefers cross country and is glad her final season of eligibility will be spent on the course. She said that while cross country is a “quirky” sport, she appreciates its structure and the discipline required to perform well at it.
Although Yale may bump into the Fighting Irish at NCAAs this coming fall, the Bulldogs said they wish their captain the best as she takes advantage of her final season of eligibility.
“Kelli truly embodies everything that is beautiful about cross country and she fully embraces and loves the sport,” Rachel Suss ’20 said. “She is selfless, willing to sacrifice anything for her team and is so strong and determined — qualities that are so important in such a mentally and physically challenging sport.”
Reagan and the Elis will race at the Ivy League outdoor track championships on May 5–6.
Ellen Margaret Andrews | firstname.lastname@example.org