Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Kayley DeLay ’22 capped off her accomplished collegiate cross country career with a tenth-place finish at the NCAA Championship, which took place on Nov. 20 at Apalachee Regional Park in Florida. Her time of 19:37.7 on the 6K course marked a career best.

The race may have been her first NCAA Championship, but she came prepared.

“[I] knew that I wasn’t going to have this opportunity again, so I went in with the mindset that I had little to lose but a lot to gain,” DeLay wrote to the News. “Coach Sheehan and I talked about getting off the line well and sticking with the front pack of 20 or so women.”

DeLay stuck with her plan at first, staying in tenth place after the first kilometer and never leaving the top 25. But halfway through the race, DeLay switched on the afterburners.

From 24th place at the 3000m mark, DeLay worked her way into the top ten over the course of the next kilometer. As the field began to separate, she never left the lead pack.

“There was no question in our mind Kayley had the ability to be at the front of that field,” head coach Taryn Sheehan added. “The special thing about Kayley is she had the confidence in herself to believe that and whenever she believes something I have yet to see her not achieve it.”

Though the pack thinned out as they approached the last kilometer, DeLay’s position wasn’t yet secure.

She would ultimately cross the line in a photo finish, within tenths of a second from her competition both ahead and behind.

“I honestly do not remember all too much from that last couple of minutes,” DeLay reflected. “I was just giving everything I had and kicked for home.”

While DeLay spared no effort in the final stretch of her race, her elite performance was a long time in the making.

“Kayley has been incredibly consistent in her training the past three years I have had the opportunity to coach her,” Sheehan wrote. “I think her ability to compound training even throughout the pandemic is what has paid dividends for her.”

As captain of the women’s cross country team, DeLay led her teammates all season through training and competition, culminating in the team’s fifth-place finish at the Regional Championship.

Naturally, the tight-knit team was there to support her from afar as she took on the toughest field yet.

“We all knew how tough and dedicated she is, so we knew she could do it,” teammate Zoe Nuechterlein ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “We were all cheering from New Haven as we watched on TV together.”

By placing in the top 40, DeLay earned All-America recognition from the USTFCCCA. She was also named Northeast Region Athlete of the Year for her performance this season — the first Eli to earn the recognition since Kate O’Neill ’03.

The award is not only representative of DeLay’s race-day performance, but also reflects her leadership in an unprecedented season for her team. 

“All of our athletes really learned throughout the pandemic that having their teammates push them to get better is one of the best parts of our sport,” Coach Sheehan wrote. “Kayley has done a fantastic job as a captain and leader for our women’s program [in] encouraging this team component.” 

With the cross country season in the rearview mirror, DeLay and her teammates can now turn their attention to the indoor track season, scheduled to begin on Dec. 11 with a home meet at Coxe Cage.

Billy reports on hockey and cross country. He is a senior in Branford College from St. Petersburg, Florida, and he studies Applied Math.