After everything she accomplished in high school, it comes to no surprise that Mia Cochran will run Saturday in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
As the former Moon phenom makes her transition into the world of college athletics, she’s on track toward even bigger and better things.
Unlike her high school days when she was virtually unbeatable in cross country and track – she has 10 PIAA gold medals to prove that — Cochran won’t be among the favorites Saturday at the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course.
But she’ll be there among 250 of the country’s top women distance runners, ready and determined to finish her freshman cross country season at Arkansas with a strong performance.
“I’m super excited to race at nationals,” Cochran said. “It’s something I was looking forward to ever since I got to college. Being on this team and being able to go to nationals with my teammates, I’m super excited.”
“Mia had a brilliant high school year and now I think her freshman transition has been phenomenal,” said Lance Harter, the veteran Arkansas women’s cross country coach. “Now it’s just ‘Give her time and experience, and watch out.’ She’s going to be very special.”
So far this season, Cochran has competed in five races.
September 24 at the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State, she finished 24th in a field of 223. She ran the 6-kilometer race (that’s roughly 3.7 miles) in 20 minutes and 54.5 seconds.
September 30 at the Chile Pepper Festival at Arkansas’ home track, she finished sixth in a field of 276. After running that 5K race in 16:36.7, she was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.
October 14 at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, she finished 80th in a field of 263 with a time of 20:45.9.
But two weeks later at the SEC Championships, she finished 12th in a field of 148. She ran that 6K race in 20:01.16.
Then this past week at the NCAA South Central Regional at Texas A&M, she finished fourth in a field of 179. She ran the 6k race in 20:27.4.
So in five races this fall, Cochran has finished 24th, sixth, 80th, 12th and fourth.
“You know, Mia is not used to getting beat,” Harter said. “But with the maturity and experience of the elite athletes from the United States who are older than her, and obviously there’s a high infiltration of international athletes in the NCAA … our schedule is as aggressive as any university that has cross country. We’ve seen everybody.
“So one of the things we kept our eye on as we went through the season is ‘OK, Mia, here you are, according to your eligibility, your chronological age, yeah, you’re running with the best of the best. Yes, there are people running in front of you. But when it comes to comparing apples to apples, you are doing very well.’ ”
In a way, Harter compares Cochran to Arkansas junior Isabel Van Camp, the Razorbacks’ No. 1 runner who finished fourth at the SEC Championships (19:05.5) and won last week’s NCAA South Central Region (20:01.9)
“Mia is kind of following in Isabel’s footsteps,” Harter said. “Isabel had a good solid freshman year. But the transition and growth from her freshman year to her sophomore year was staggering. That’s why a lot of people label Isabel as one of the most improved athletes in the NCAA. I think Mia is going to be the same way.”
Academically, athletically and socially, Cochran says she’s enjoyed the transition to life as a college student/athlete.
She’s majoring in Business and running for one of the top cross country programs in the country. In 2019, Arkansas won the national title. Right now, the Razorbacks rank No. 21 in the latest NCAA Division I poll.
“The transition from high school to college has been pretty smooth,” she said. “Academics have been good. Traveling (for competitions) makes it a little bit harder, and training is obviously a lot harder. But you have to put in the work in order to run fast. So it’s been fun. It’s been exciting.”
Last year, Arkansas finished seventh as a team at the NCAA Championships. In a field of 255 women, the Razorbacks had two runners finish in the top 40. Lauren Gregory, a senior who’s since graduated, finished 16th while Van Camp placed 37th.
It’s hard to predict where Cochran will finish in her first national championship race. There are just so many elite women in the field.
But Cochran did say that “The SEC is definitely one of the best conferences, so just being able to get out there and make my name known this season has been exciting. Being able to stay strong and stay healthy, it gives me motivation going into the nationals.”
While Harter is encouraged by the way Cochran has progressed as a freshman in cross country, he thinks she’ll fare even better when track season starts.
“Her credentials coming in were far superior to most athletes we’ve ever had at Arkansas,” said Harter, who also coaches the Razorbacks women’s track team. “For Mia, track will even be better, and our track team is outstanding.”
In high school, Cochran’s senior season at Moon started with three-peat victories in the WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A Cross Country Championships. She’s only the third girl to win three straight state titles since the PIAA first staged cross country championships in 1974.
By the time spring arrived, Cochran raised the stakes. Rather than just defend her titles in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs, events that she won at the 2021 PIAA Track & Field Championships as a junior, she decided to run the 800 as well.
She easily won all three events at the WPIAL Championships at Slippery Rock University. Then at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University where no girls runner in 3A had ever won gold in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, she accomplished that “distance triple” as well.
A case can be made that she’s a GOAT, or the greatest girls distance runner in PIAA history.
This past January, she was named Pennsylvania Gatorade Runner of the Year.