Sporting Life

A remarkable run

Kayley DeLay '22 was all but unbeatable in her senior year.

Evan Frondorf ’14, a risk analyst in San Francisco, writes frequently about sports for the magazine.

Anderson Bobo

Anderson Bobo

Kayley DeLay ’22 gives a thumbs-up after qualifying for the steeplechase finals at the USA Track and Field Championship in June. View full image

It’s hard to imagine a better individual year for a student-athlete than the year runner Kayley DeLay ’22 had in her senior campaign. After never previously qualifying for an NCAA national meet, the Florida native made a splash—a major splash—in all three seasons of cross country, indoor, and outdoor track. She leaves a trail of wins and school records in her wake.

“We’ve had a lot of really, really good middle-distance and distance runners in the history of the program,” says David Shoehalter, the Mark T. Young ’68 Director of Cross Country and Track and Field, citing particularly Kate Tenforde (née O’Neill) ’03 and Kate Grace ’11, both Olympians. “And the year Kayley put together, if it’s possible, was even better than what those two did while they were here.”

DeLay, an environmental engineering major from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, set the tone from the very first weekend of racing in the fall. She won the Harvard-Yale-Princeton cross-country meet, and then repeated as Ivy champion at the cross-country heptagonals.

Next, team captain DeLay earned a tenth-place finish and All-American honors at the NCAA championship, the best national finish for a Bulldog in 15 years. “It was a dream to get to go back and compete on a familiar course and leave that meet happy,” says DeLay, who has been traveling in France over the summer.

The breakneck pace continued into the indoor track season. Just two weeks later, she broke Yale’s 5K indoor record in Boston with a time of 15:36.66. Then came another Ivy title defense in the 3K (also a school record of 9:09.19) and a 15th-place national finish in the 5K at the NCAA.

Somehow, all of that was just a warmup for the outdoors, where DeLay excelled in both the 5K and her best event: the steeplechase, a unique 3,000-meter race of slightly more than seven standard laps, with barriers and a water jump on each lap. “It’s the cross country of track, so it makes sense that I love it,” says DeLay. “The barriers keep things interesting.”

After victories in both events at the Ivy championship—including a steeplechase finish more than 30 seconds ahead of any competitor—she won her NCAA preliminary race in the steeplechase to advance to the championships in Eugene, Oregon.

There, DeLay and race leader Courtney Waymant of BYU broke away from the pack halfway through a rainy race, and the dueling “Y” logos maintained their distance from the pack to the end. While Waymant held on for the victory and collegiate record, DeLay’s second-place finish was a personal best by more than 15 seconds (9:25.08) and the third-fastest time in NCAA history. “As I approached that final water jump, it dawned on me that I was going to finish as NCAA runner-up,” she says, adding: “Good thing I didn’t fall on that last barrier.”

A tenth-place finish two weeks later at the USA Track and Field Championship, also in Eugene, capped her incredible year. She also won the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award at Class Day as the top female athlete.

DeLay still has one more season of outdoor eligibility remaining, so she’ll run for the Washington Huskies next spring. But she’s also looking ahead to the next Olympic trials and beyond. After all, the 2024 Olympics are coincidentally in Paris, and after her summer travels in France, she “would love to be back in two years.”

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