Heading into the Big East Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the student-athletes from St. John’s University were fit and focused. For Claire Cushing, a senior distance runner from Canada, it has been a sweet change from her freshman year, when the pandemic forced her to quickly head home before borders closed. For freshmen Nora Haugen, a sprinter from Norway, and Jamora Alves, a thrower from Grenada, it’s been a great start to their collegiate careers.

“Being at the Big East Championships, there’s this mentality that everybody just wants to do their best, and we’re all there to push each other…and show ourselves who we can truly be at our top peak level,” said Cushing, who competed in the 1,500 meters and the 5K at the conference championship. “I love competing because I want to get better and better.”

Cushing, who also played competitive ice hockey growing up, knew she wanted to attend university in the U.S. and compete in Division I, finding the level of competition exhilarating. Haugen also focused on competing in the U.S., and when she connected with Aliann Pompey, director of track and field and cross-country at St. John’s, she found her spot. Haugen is on Norway’s national team and hopes to continue competing internationally.

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“I’m extremely happy with everything that I’ve learned and the way I’ve developed. Not just my performances have developed and I’ve done personal bests, but I’ve also developed as a person and an athlete. The team and Coach Pompey have taught me so much,” said Haugen, who hopes to compete at the Under 23 European Championships this summer. 

Attending school away from home is not new to Alves, who attended high school in Jamaica, West Indies. She started throwing at the age of 8 but was largely self-taught—“just going and competing barefoot sometimes,” she said. “I met a coach from Grenada and went from there.”

Although she also played netball, throwing has always been her passion. Alves competes in the shot put and discus, winning both at the Big East Championships. Her coaches saw her potential, and the scholarship to attend school and train in Jamaica was life-changing. “It was a great opportunity,” Alves said. Being the leading performer from her high school led to U.S. athletic scholarship offers. “I work toward my goals,” she said. 

St. John’s finished second in the Big East—the best finish since 1989. Sprinter Tatyana McKenzie was named most outstanding performer in women’s track.

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