NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack rising senior John Braga is a goal-oriented person. After crossing one of those goals off his list this past season when he qualified for the NCAA Championships, Braga has penciled in some new goals for his upcoming senior season.
As a junior, the North Reading native wanted to do one thing: quality for nationals.
“Qualifying for nationals would mean everything,” he said at the time. “This is the first year where I really thing I can go to nationals and do a lot of damage, and hopefully place. It’s been a lot of hard work, and it would be great to have happen.”
Fast forward to July, and Braga is spending his summer training for his senior season after two trips to the NCAA Championships this past season, competing both in the indoor and outdoor events.
(Ed. Note – This still will appear in a future edition of The Eagle Tribune)
Braga became Merrimack’s first male competitor in program history to qualify for nationals during the indoor season. Over the course of this year, he set school records in the 60-hurdles (8.68 seconds), high jump (6-8.25), pole vault (13-9.25) and heptathlon (5317 points).
In the outdoor season Braga’s set his sights on his signature event, the decathlon, and the honors continued to roll in.
As the weather warmed this spring, Braga was crowned Northeast-10 Decathlon Champion as well as winning at the New England Championships before earning an All-American selection in the decathlon at the NCAA Championships in Bradenton, Florida.
“Qualifying for nationals in both indoor and outdoor this year was a dream come true,” he said. “I put so much work into achieving my goal of becoming All American and I couldn’t be happier with how everything went. I had so much fun in Kansas (indoors) and Florida (outdoors) and the whole experience is something that I’ll never forget.”
At the indoor championships, he finished fourth or higher in three of seven events, taking sixth place overall in the heptathlon and also earning an All-American selection.
Braga’s growth as an individual athlete has mirrored that of Merrimack’s growth as a team. Entering its seventh season as a program this upcoming season, the team has taken huge strides on the national level the last three seasons. Prior to this year, those strides were owed largely to Carly Muscaro’s rise up the ladder, and she elevated herself to even higher levels this past season, winning national championships in the 400 meters at both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships.
Both Muscaro and Braga are building a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten by this program.
Muscaro joined Braga at the NCAA Championships this past season and they were also joined by Olivia Downey, Mariessa Ricciardi and Kiana Weary, who along with Muscaro formed a qualifying 4×400 relay team.
In only a handful of years, Merrimack track has gone from a program that was just trying to find its traction as an upstart in the conference to a program that has been churning out some of the NCAA’s best, including a two-time national champion.
Muscaro said, in her past experiences, the national meets can be challenging to prepare for because there is a lot of time spent preparing for an event to happen. That wasn’t something Braga had to endure, having to complete 10 events over the course of two days didn’t leave much time to catch his breath.
“It was nice having someone there thats been before,” Braga said. “Carly obviously knows what she’s doing and if I were to have any questions, especially about the 400, I know I can go to her. The decathlon, however, is a little different from the other events. There is never standing around because you’re constantly doing something for the event you’re at or the next one.
“It is so cool to see the team grow this fast. The coaches do a very good job with us and the attitude on the team has changed for the better over the past couple of years. Athletes on this team want to be great and when they see more men and woman go to nationals than ever before, they want to be a part of it even more.”
As the season changes for Braga heading into his senior year, so does the goal. Qualifying for nationals is in the rearview mirror.
“This year I want to win,” he said.
That means there is never any time off, which is something he has embraced despite the hot, humid conditions that the summer brings. Hoping to get stronger for throwing events, he’ll start to hit the track again in just a few weeks.
“I know if I do all the right things and keep improving like I have this past year I know it is possible,” he said. I have the best coaches, teammates, and family supporting me and that motivates me to work harder than ever.
“This summer has been all about eating, sleeping, lifting, throwing, and occasionally playing basketball,” he continued. “It’s very important for me to get a decent amount of rest after a long season so I can recover so there hasn’t been any intense workouts yet. However, I’m a little bit skinnier than the average decathlete so gaining a little bit of muscle and getting better at the throwing events will help me out the most right now. Once August comes around I will get to the track and start getting my legs moving again to get ready for preseason in the fall.”