Yale Athletics

For the first time since 2016, the Yale men’s cross country team will send a representative to run in the NCAA National Championships this Saturday, Nov. 8. 

Sean Kay ’24, senior captain and team leader throughout the season, led his team to sixth place overall in the NCAA Northeast Regional Cross Country Championships on Friday, Nov. 10. This was the team’s best finish in the meet ever. 

Not only did Kay lead a record-setting team, but his 13th place finish at 29:58.2, just four seconds shy of his collegiate 10K PR, earned him an individual bid to the NCAA National Championships this Saturday, Nov. 8 in Charlottesville, VA.

“This fall, every early morning wake up and late night came to fruition by being able to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country National Championship,” Kay wrote to the News. “If you were to tell me freshman year that I would be competing at NCAA’s, I would’ve told you that you were crazy.  I am forever grateful for God, my teammates and my coach for continually being there for me and pushing me to be the best I can.”

In each region, the top two teams from each of the nine NCAA Regional Championships get automatic bids to the NCAA National Championships, and from there, thirteen more teams are selected for an at-large bid based on their performance at the Regional Championships. Finally, the top four individual placers from non-qualifying teams get individual bids.

In the Northeast Region, Iona University took home first place, followed by Harvard in second. This eliminated seven of the top 12 runners. In addition, Syracuse University earned an at-large bid, removing two more. This put Kay into fourth place of all runners from the remaining field, earning him a bid to Nationals.

Despite impressive finishes in both of the past two NCAA Northeast Regional Championships — he earned 19th last year at the meet with his still-standing 10K PR of 29:54.5 — Kay’s sights weren’t always set on qualifying for NCAA Nationals.

“I was recruited prior to Covid happening really with the goal of just being a varsity scorer by the time I graduated,” Kay wrote to the News. “I wasn’t able to compete my freshman year because of COVID and the Ivy League ruling on athletics, and so this goal would have to wait a little longer. Coming back my sophomore year was my first experience being able to compete at a Division 1 level, and I didn’t have a clear path of what my goals were. I started to really take running and cross country seriously after my sophomore year and during my junior summer, and this proved to be extremely helpful in enabling me to take a jump and help me realize being a national championship qualifier might be possible.” 

Despite an impressive career with the Bulldogs, Kay hopes that what he is remembered for after graduating and leaving Yale men’s cross country is the way in which he was able to positively impact the culture as a team leader. 

When interviewed by the News, Kay’s teammate Owen Karas ’26 — who was Kay’s companion at the front of the Bulldog pack all season — spoke to Kay’s qualities as a leader.

“Sean has always led by example,” Karas wrote to the News. “Throughout the challenges and the doubts of the long season, Sean has remained very consistent in his goals and training. It is great to see his hard work paying off. He inspires us to follow his lead, and he raises the expectations for the program.”

Coach Matt Gutridge expressed similar sentiments.

Gutridge wrote to the News that Kay has done a “tremendous job” as captain. 

“As soon as he was elected by his teammates, he scheduled a meeting with me to talk about ways he felt the program could move forward,” Gutridge wrote. “He has taken the time to meet with his teammates individually and as a group. He led the team to one of the most successful seasons in program history and is our first NCAA qualifier since 2016. The consistency he has demonstrated in training and in his racing along with his self discipline that has allowed him to train at a high level, while also excelling in the classroom, embody the values of the program. The goal is to leave the program better than it was when you arrived and Sean has certainly done that.”

Kay, an economics major from Melrose, MA and a graduate of Arlington Catholic High School, has been a contributing member of the Bulldogs’ XC team during the three years in which he was able to compete. He placed second, first, and first for the Bulldogs at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships during his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, respectively. He was a model of year-over-year improvement, moving from 55th to 19th to 12th in the Regional Championships each season. His presence on the team will certainly be missed.

Kay expressed gratitude to Yale, his teammates, and his coach for his success on and off the course over the past four years, but most importantly he thanked God and his faith.

“My 4 years at Yale has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” Kay wrote to the News. “My time at Yale has enabled me to grow not only academically and athletically as a person, but most importantly every success I have had reminds me to grow in my faith as well, which is THE ultimate goal.”

The Championships will take place this Saturday in Charlottesville, VA, featuring all of the nation’s best Division I collegiate runners.