For the second-consecutive season, redshirt senior Emily Mackay represented the Binghamton cross country team on the most prolific collegiate stage for runners in the nation.

On Saturday, Mackay stepped up to the line at the sunny Apalachee Regional Park to compete in the 6K race at the 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. At the sound of the starter gun, Mackay quickly took off and positioned herself toward the outside flank of the field. As the course began to narrow, she closed back in with the front pack and ran stride-for-stride with the leading racers, including BYU senior Whittni Orton, who went on to win the competition. By the 1170-meter mark, Mackay was running at the front of the race, tied for first.

By the 2000-meter mark, Mackay’s green-and-white attire was still visible among the sea of athletes, but the Bearcat started to fall behind. At the 3000-meter mark, Mackay had already fallen back to 40th place.

“[Mackay] got out pretty hard, was pretty aggressive and then midway through was sitting in a pretty good spot,” said Binghamton head coach Annette Acuff. “[Mackay] felt kind of tired that second half of the race, it was kind of tough. But she fought through it as best as she could.”

Mackay ultimately crossed the line in 52nd place with a time of 20:08.40. Orton won the event and became the first BYU female athlete to win an NCAA cross country title.

“That’s the best time [Mackay’s] ever run for a 6K, so that’s a huge [personal record] on that course,” Acuff said. “We were hoping she would break 20 minutes, that was her goal. She was just shy of that.”

Although Mackay was unable to replicate last season’s 14th-place performance and earn back-to-back All-American cross country titles, she bested her time from last year’s competition by nearly half a minute. Unlike this season’s meet, the national championship last spring did not host Notre Dame, Wisconsin or Oregon, which all posted individual finishers in the upper echelon of the competition.

“[Mackay] felt pretty solid, not like 100 percent today,” Acuff said. “She didn’t recover as well as we would’ve liked from regionals a week ago. Last year, we had a little more time to recover … She would’ve liked to have been All-American, and she was 10 seconds off that, 12 places.”

Not only was the team competition stiffer at the event, but the individual performances were faster than last season’s as well. In the spring, not a single runner broke 20 minutes in the NCAA 6K. At this season’s tournament, 43 women finished within the 20-minute mark. Included in those runners were all five of NC State’s top-finishing athletes. The Wolfpack won this year’s team event after losing the title to BYU last season.

Mackay was only beaten by two NC State athletes last season and finished ahead of Wolfpack sophomore Katelyn Tuohy, who earned five Gatorade Player of the Year titles in high school and is the only athlete in the history of any sport to accomplish the feat. On Saturday, Tuohy finished 15th and ran almost an entire minute faster than she did in March 2021.

With Mackay’s cross country season concluded, winter track is on the horizon for the Binghamton athlete. Due to COVID-19, the Bearcats did not have an indoor season and only competed in cross country and outdoor track in early 2021. Mackay traveled to the NCAA meet during the outdoor season, where she earned her second overall All-American honors after finishing seventh in the 5K event at the historic Hayward Field.

“[Mackay] had a really good season,” Acuff said. “She won the America East Championship. She got third at the [NCAA Division I Northeast] Regional Meet. She ran her fastest 6K ever at a national championship. She got 52nd in the country. That is a really good season. Just because she didn’t get All-American does not mean that she didn’t run well this year … You can’t compare last year to this year. It’s a different year.”