NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack track team is in the midst of its best season as a program, and next week will send competitors to the NCAA Indoor Championships in three different events.
For junior Carly Muscaro, trips to nationals have become commonplace, and she’ll return to compete in the 400 meters. On this trip, she’ll be joined by teammate John Braga, who has qualified for nationals in the heptathlon, and the 4×400 relay team, which consists of Olivia Downey, Kiana Weary, Mariessa Ricciardi and Muscaro.
All five head to nationals after a successful showing at the New England Championships this past weekend, where Muscaro won the 400 meters, Braga took second in the heptathlon and the 4×400 team finished third overall.
“This was the most successful NEICAAA Championship in Merrimack history,” said head coach Jacky Mendes. “We had some critical do-or-die situations this weekend, and everyone delivered who needed to.”
Muscaro won the 400 by almost two full seconds, breaking the New England record in the event with a time of 52.43 seconds. Braga totaled a score of 5307 in the heptathlon, beating the school record by more than 300 points and finishing ranked No. 4 in Division II. Braga won three of the seven events, including setting a new Merrimack record in the long jump at 7.20 meters.
“Carly improved her No. 1 rank in the 400 with a personal record, and John Braga had the weekend of his life in the heptathlon, shattering his school record by over 300 points and earning No. 4 in Division II,” Mendes said. “He also broke the meet record in the heptathlon long jump and punched his ticket to Nationals, the first male athlete to do so. The women’s 4x400m relay demolished expectations by clocking in at 3:44.89, bettering the school record by almost five seconds and also punching a ticket to Nationals. On the biggest day of their athletic careers to date, the Warriors went above and beyond. This season has been a dream, and we look forward to continue living it at the NCAA Championship.”
For Braga, this qualification is really a dream come true. Earlier this season, he spoke about his drive to qualify in this event.
“Qualifying for nationals would mean everything,” he said. “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.”
Braga first began competing in the event his sophomore year of high school and said he immediately fell in love with it. Merrimack was one of the few schools that recruited him that would also allow him to keep competing in that event, rather than narrow his events
“It’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “Other schools that recruited me only wanted me to be a long jumper, and I didn’t want to do just that.”
Training for the decathlon is also much different than if Braga was only in a couple of events. There isn’t much time to focus on just one event in training, and time management is a big component.
“We find time to get practice in on all the events every week,” Braga said. “Our coach (Mendes) does a great job planning out practices every week and that’s important.”
Nationals will take place March 11-12 in Pittsburg, Kansas. The team’s outdoor season will begin on March 26 at Bridgewater State.