OXFORD, Miss. -- On a rain-soaked morning last October, Mary Alex England stood before assistant coach Erin Dawson for her walk-on tryout at Lamar Park In Oxford. Undeterred, England passed the tryout with flying colors, and the rest, as they say, has been history.
"I had been up every morning because I would run in the morning throughout the school year," England said. "On that morning in October, I woke up and it was raining. It was seriously the only morning in Oxford that it had been raining that whole semester yet. I warmed up before Coach Dawson came over. I did a lap to warm up. She shows up. She wasn't 100 percent sure if I was going to show up, and then she comes up, and I'm there in the pouring rain. She could see that I was pretty determined by the fact that I was out there in the pouring rain ready to do this."
A swimmer for most of her life, the Cary, North Carolina, native began running cross country her senior year of high school. Wanting to go to a big Southeastern Conference school, she fell in love with Ole Miss once she stepped on campus. As a true freshman at Ole Miss last year, she missed the structure and competitiveness, so she gave cross country another try.
"With swimming, I got really burned out my junior year and I knew I didn't want to swim in college," England said. "I had always wanted to try running, so I tried it my senior year, and I liked it. Last year, I missed having a set schedule and I had so much free time and I missed being competitive, so then I decided to try to run cross country and I fell in love with it after that."
"Mary Alex has been a beacon of light for us," head coach Brian O'Neal said. "She shows up every day wanting to work hard and wanting to get better. She's a young lady who had been a swimmer for most of her life and decided to run, not just competitive athletics, but compete at a high level here in the Southeastern Conference. She has had nothing but success so far."
England started to practice with the team a week after her tryout and traveled to the SEC Cross Country Championships soon thereafter, where she competed at the 6,000-meter course in Gainesville, Florida.
In the spring, running in her first-ever competitive 10,000-meter race, England broke the school record and captured the event title at the Drake Relays. A week later, she won the 5,000-meter race at the LSU Invitational, the final tune-up before the SEC Championships, which will take place Thursday through Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky.
England, who ranks eighth in the SEC in the 10,000, will compete in the event on Friday, as well as the 5,000 on Sunday.
"It's very rare," said O'Neal of runners having such success with so little experience. "She's a rare person, in terms of the unique qualities she has -- unselfishness, willing to put in a lot of hard work and lot of hours of sacrifice, whether it's academically or athletically, and she wants to be the best for this team. She loves to wear the Red and Blue. She loves competing for Ole Miss and wants to help us be successful."
She credits her swimming background - specifically the structure and stamina - for her early success, as well as her relative newness to the sport.
"I'm still really naive to the sport," England said. "When we do track workouts and we're doing 400s, and someone will say, `You need to go this,' and it's something really fast, it doesn't faze me because I have no idea. I still see myself as having a lot of potential, so I'm really enjoying it."
"The biggest thing that most of us, as human beings, put on ourselves is expectations, or we're fearful of success," O'Neal said. "Mary Alex is not fearful of being successful. She wants to find out how good she can actually be."
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller.
On the transition as new hitting coach: The transition has been really good. The coaching staff has made it a lot easier on me than what it could be. It's definitely been a whirlwind. On what he knew about Ole... read more
UPDATE: Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.Here are more of Coach Freeze's interviews in Bristol. Scroll down to the earlier post to hear him on Ivan Maisel's podcast. Listen: Freeze on the Paul Finebaum Show Listen: Freeze on the Freddie Coleman ShowListen:... read more
All 14 Southeastern Conference football coaches will travel to ESPN's annual mid-summer football coaches "car wash" - in which guests appear across multiple programs and platforms over one day - at ESPN's Bristol, Conn., headquarters on Monday and Tuesday. Ole... read more
Ole Miss took its turn at the annual SEC Media Days on Thursday. Joining head coach Hugh Freeze was senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and senior safety Cody Prewitt. Here are a few related SEC Media... read more
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said on day one that his expectations were to make the program relevant in the Southeastern Conference Western Division. With a full allotment of 85 scholarship players and more depth of both sides of... read more
Once overshadowed, Wallace now finds himself more firmly in the spotlight after the departure of seven of the league's eight top passers. The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace is the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing... read more
Before taking his turn at the podium in the main room at SEC Media Days on Thursday, head coach Hugh Freeze met with members of the Ole Miss local media and addressed a wide variety of topics. Here are some... read more
Ole Miss will take its turn at SEC Media Days on Thursday. Here are a few links to stories of interest for Ole Miss fans from Day Three of SEC Media Days, which featured Steve Shaw (SEC), Justin Connolly (ESPN),... read more
Ole Miss will take its turn at SEC Media Days on Thursday. Here are a few links to stories of interest for Ole Miss fans from Day Two of SEC Media Days, which featured South Carolina, Mississippi State, Texas A&M... read more
NFL.com CFB 24/7 has counted down the 14 college football players to watch -- and some other college football topics -- in varying categories in 2014. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and the link to the complete 14... read more
Ole Miss will take its turn at SEC Media Days on Thursday. Here are a few links to stories of interest for Ole Miss fans from Day 1 of SEC Media Days, which featured SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Auburn, Florida... read more
Former Ole Miss player Zack Cozart, now a member of the Cincinnati Reds, was named the best defensive shortstop in baseball for the first half of the 2014 season. ESPN Insider Scott Spratt selected one player from either league at... read more
The Season: Ole Miss Baseball: Omaha Bound from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo. Chapter 1: Regionals from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo. Chapter 2: Super Regionals from Ole Miss Rebels on Vimeo. Chapter 3: CWS Games 1 & 2... read more
Three student-athletes and the head coach of each of the 14 Southeastern Conference football programs will participate in SEC Football Media Days, July 14-17, at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.Ole Miss will take its... read more