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MSM senior an all-around winner in classroom and track

McNeill says Mount’s rigorous schedule helped her to juggle academics, athletics

Published: May 8, 2024   
Madeline McNeill, seen here May 2, will attend the Air Force Academy after graduation from Mount St. Mary Academy and a successful career in diving and cross country. (Dwain Hebda)

With just two days left to go in her senior year of high school, senior Madeline McNeill’s day is unfolding in a fashion typical of her four years at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock. 

In addition to wrapping up on campus, she fields an interview by Arkansas Catholic before heading off to her last final later that afternoon, scheduled a day early so that she can rise early the next morning and head off to compete at the Arkansas State Track & Field Championships.

Yet far from being overwhelmed or exhausted by her jam-packed schedule, McNeill said it is what has made her time at MSM four of the most impactful years of her life.

“I remember coming in my freshman year and just thinking, ‘Oh, senior year is so far away. I don't even know if I'm gonna get to that.’ And now, looking back, I don't know, the time flew by so fast. I really can't believe I'm a senior right now.”

McNeill departs high school, exploring everything she could academically and athletically. In four years representing the Belles, she’s a back-to-back conference diving champion the past two years and a four-time state qualifier, placing fourth as a freshman and senior. She qualified for the state cross-country championships all four years of high school, earning all-conference designation as a senior, and was all-conference and made state each of the two years she competed in track, twice in the 3,200 meter as well as this year being part of the 4x800 meter relay.

Not bad for a kid who swore off running in favor of other sports as a sixth grader at The Anthony School in Little Rock where she attended through eighth grade.

“I've always been involved with sports, throughout my life,” she said. “In second grade or so, I did ballet and gymnastics and all that. And then when I was in third grade, I started diving and that was kind of the first real club sport I started doing. Then in fifth grade I joined the track team at my school, and it was actually kind of funny because I absolutely hated it. I didn't like running, I just really thought that that wasn't for me.

“In seventh grade, one of my best friends was doing cross-country and she was like, ‘Oh, you should try it, you should join,’ and I was like, ‘No, no. I did track fifth-grade year and I'm just not a runner, that's not my thing.’ But she convinced me to do it and I started doing cross-country my seventh-grade year and I don't know, I really just kind of fell in love with it at that point.”

McNeill carried her full slate of activities to MSM, the first member of her family to attend there. She chose the school in part because of its rigorous academic program and for the school’s small size, which allowed her to compete and participate.

“I think one thing that really appealed to me was the close-knit environment,” she said. “When I went and shadowed there, that was very evident. My middle school was pretty small and so I wanted an environment similar to that in high school.”

McNeill said she never considered cutting back on her athletic pursuits, even given the school’s reputation for academic rigor. If anything, she embraced them even more, especially after making up her mind to attend a service academy after graduation. As with running, it was an idea that evolved.

“In eighth grade, I first started looking into service academies, specifically the Air Force Academy. I just remember thinking, ‘I have no idea who would wanna do that, that sounds awful. I'm so grateful for people who do that but that just doesn't sound like me,’” she said with a laugh. “After more research and actually considering the possibility of going there, I was like, ‘OK, this actually sounds like something I could do and would be a good fit for me.’”

True to her word, McNeill will attend the United States Air Force Academy this fall, where she plans to major in aeronautical engineering, minor in nuclear weapons and strategies and become a pilot. She said the lessons of maintaining such a strict regimen during her four years at Mount set the mold for the kind of work it will take to reach these goals. 

“I definitely think (athletics and academics) go hand in hand,” she said. “Athletics really instill that dedication, and time management is a big, big thing. I really think those skills will help a lot in college as well.”

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