Siobhra O'Flaherty knows it doesn't take long for her George Mason teammates and classmates to realize she isn't from the United States.
"As soon I open my mouth, they know I'm Irish," O'Flaherty said with a laugh in her thick Irish accent recently.
On Sunday, the George Mason freshman will get the chance to represent her home country on the international stage. O'Flaherty will be one of six women to run for Ireland's U-23 team at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Tilburg in the Netherlands.
The 6.3K race begins at 5:35 a.m. (EST) on Sunday at Beekes Bergen Park in Tilburg and will be live streamed here
. Twenty countries and 79 athletes – professional and amateur – from Belgium to Spain to Turkey will compete in the 25th annual European Cross Country Championships.
"I'm very excited," O'Flaherty said. "It is nice to be back in an Irish vest. To earn an international vest is always a huge honor. Pretty much of all Europe will be there."
O'Flaherty hails from Carlow, Ireland, a little more than an hour southwest of Dublin. She transferred from the University of Limerick in Ireland but did not compete there athletically.
She's no stranger to the international stage, however. She won a silver medal in the 3,000 meters at the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2013. Just this past February, she competed at a road race for Ireland against other countries from the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales).
Of the six runners chosen to run for Ireland, five are currently competing in the states at the NCAA level: Roisin and Eilish Flanagan (Division II power Adams State), Aoibhe Richardson (Portland), Fian Sweeney (Boston College) and O'Flaherty.
"Any time you can represent your country, it is an important achievement. I'm proud she was able to do that," Mason assistant coach Tony Mihalich
said. "This meet, especially, is one of the ultimate goals of European cross country runners. So to make it, is an honor. It is a testament to the work she put in in the fall. It is just an exciting way to culminate the cross country season."
A three-time All-Ireland cross country champion, O'Flaherty was recruited to Mason by Mihalich and she has quickly jumped into the mix for the Patriots in her first semester on campus. She was Mason's first runner across the finish line in all four races she competed in this fall.
The 5-foot-1 kinesiology major earned Atlantic 10 All-Conference honors at the A-10 Championships by finishing 15th and she was tabbed to the All-Rookie Team. Two weeks later, she just missed earning All-Region honors, finishing one spot out of the top 25 in 26th at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships. She then wrapped up her season by earning All-ECAC honors with a fourth-place finish at the ECAC Championships on Nov. 17.
Aside from individual accolades, O'Flaherty has added a boost to the team's overall performance as Mason's women's team had one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Patriots took fourth at the ECAC Championships and placed 16th at the NCAA Southeast Regional for its best finish in eight years. Their sixth-place finish at the A-10 Championships was their best result since joining the league in 2013.
"She came in it a great really time because the whole team has been going in the right direction," Mihalich said. "All the girls have made huge developments. You've got to have somebody fuel us upfront and it is the role she is able to play. That helped. This season went well based on the whole women's team."