Ceili McCabe’s rise to a successful collegiate athletics career didn’t always center around running.
Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, McCabe participated in multiple sports, including basketball and soccer. Her goal was to be a college athlete in whatever sport gave her the best opportunity.
“[I] joined a track team in [the] end of my junior year, going into my senior year,” McCabe told Gold and Blue Nation in an interview last May for the WVU Coaches Show.
Injuries began to rule out the possibility of playing some of the sports she loved at the next level. But it was at the Canadian National Championships that McCabe was noticed by WVU head coach Sean Cleary.
McCabe arrived at West Virginia in 2019, though still currently is listed as a redshirt freshman for track & field.
She redshirted during the 2019-2020 track & field campaign, but was Big 12 Newcomer of the year during the ’19 cross country season.
Back on the track the following year, McCabe earned All-Big 12 First Team status during the indoor track season, and finished second in the 3,000-meter run at the Big 12 Championship meet.
In the spring of 2021, she asserted herself as one of the top distance athletes in the conference. McCabe earned a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team, broke the program record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase (9:32:01), and then won the conference title in that event at the Big 12 Outdoor Track & Field Championship.
Her incredible, historic spring finished with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships, which earned her All-American status. She also became the first WVU track & field athlete to become an All-American since 2015.
“It definitely wasn’t something that was on my radar, necessarily, for this year,” she said at the time. “It was definitely a goal of mine to kind of be as competitive as I could, and hope that [would] bring me in contention for a national championship in one point of my career. And that would definitely be the goal. I didn’t have the expectation of it happening quickly.”
It wasn’t the first time McCabe performed on the big stage, though. As a high schooler, she ran in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the national level.
Flash forward to this year, and McCabe is on virtually the same path as she was a year ago.
She repeated as the Big 12 champion in the steeplechase, and put in another solid showing at the NCAA East Regional Preliminary meet in Bloomington, Indiana.
“Just trying to be as relaxed as possible, and kind of work on all the little things that we need to be prepared for in the coming weeks,” McCabe said on the latest episode of the WVU Coaches Show when asked about her thoughts heading into the meet.
Staying relaxed, and getting over the barriers as efficiently as possible, were two of the “little things” that she focused on. She succeeded.
For the second year in a row, she finished with the third-best time, overall, at the NCAA East Regional meet in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. McCabe pulled away from the pack with roughly two laps to go and cruised to win her heat by nearly three seconds.
“We kind of went into it knowing that I didn’t need to do a whole lot of the work early on in the race, but then definitely wanted to finish off running a little bit stronger, and try to get into that rhythm that I might need to be running an NCAA semifinal,” said McCabe.
That earned her another trip to Eugene, Oregon, as she guns for a national championship. Only twice in WVU outdoor track & field history has an individual captured a national title.
Pat Itanyi was the first, as she was the nation’s best in the long jump in 1995. Ten years later, Megan Metcalfe finished in first place by just 0.54 seconds to win the national title in the 5,000-meter run.
Incredibly, McCabe easily qualified for a spot in the national meet with a time that was more than nine seconds off of her pace at last year’s NCAA finals meet, and nearly 15 seconds slower than her personal best time.
“Find yourself in different race rhythms, kind of knowing that regardless of what speed you’re going, you’re always going to need to close a little quicker,” she said.
McCabe entered the track & field postseason as the No. 1 ranked runner in the Big 12 in her discipline. She is also ranked second in the country in the event. She has earned accolades at the conference, regional and national levels over the last 12 months.
In her eyes, trusting all of the preparation and work that she has put in up to this point will be key.
Her quest to become West Virginia’s latest national champion begins on Thursday, June 9 with the national semi-final.
A top-five finish in her heat, would secure her spot in the final collegiate steeplechase running of the year, with a national championship trophy on the line.