Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Maeve O’Neil, Northampton

Northampton’s Maeve O’Neil, shown here running at the Western Mass. Championships at Stanley Park in Westfield, is the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

Northampton’s Maeve O’Neil, shown here running at the Western Mass. Championships at Stanley Park in Westfield, is the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By HANNAH BEVIS

For the Gazette

Published: 01-08-2024 5:39 PM

For Maeve O’Neil, running has always been about community. 

She first started running when she was in second or third grade and joined a local Girls on the Run group, an after-school program that would meet a couple of times a week. The group taught the participants about things like improving self-confidence, and then they’d go for a run or do another physical activity.

O’Neil loved it. She joined a cross-country team at her middle school later, and it was only natural for her to continue running in high school, where she's taken to the sport like a fish to water.

“I love the feeling of being in nature and getting to experience the outdoors, and also getting to connect with other people who love to run,” O’Neil said. 

In addition to enjoying running, O’Neil is also quite good at it. She had a remarkable junior season at Northampton High School, placing fourth at the Western Mass. championship (20:07.55), taking fifth in the MIAA Division 2B qualifier (19:05.1) and medaling at the the Div. 2 state meet with an 11th place finish (19:41.44). In addition to her top finishes, she also broke the 19-minute barrier twice this season. 

Those efforts led to O’Neil being selected as the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

O’Neil was also part of the most successful Northampton girls cross-country team in history, leading the Blue Devils to a program-best third place finish at the state meet. It was a dramatic ending for the team - at first, the live results had them in fifth place overall. Then they moved up to fourth. Then they jumped to third. 

“At first it was like, oh, we tied last year’s results, we did really good. Then we saw it drop and we're like, oh, they must have added in the alternates and we were really happy. Then it dropped again and we were in disbelief,” O’Neil said. “When it was confirmed that was the score, we were just so excited.” 

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O’Neil put in the work over the summer to help her results this season, making sure to let her body rest after her outdoor track season, putting in the miles over the summer and attending Berkshire Running Camp prior to the start of cross country season. That hard work paid off for O’Neil, who’s hoping to use the momentum she built up in cross country season to propel during indoor track season.