skip navigation

Lower Moreland alum Shane Cohen goes from hoops to Olympic hopeful

06/19/2024, 11:15am EDT
By Josh Verlin

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Shane Cohen’s teammates didn’t quite believe his tales. 

When the Lower Moreland graduate talked to his fellow runners at the University of Virginia about how he used to be a pretty good basketball player, they were skeptical. After all, Cohen is 5-foot-8 on a tall day and about 140 pounds soaking wet, looking more like a high school basketball team’s manager than its star.

“Coming in it was like, there’s no way this guy is all-state in Pennsylvania, there’s no way,” said Jack Eliason, a senior on UVa’s Track & Field team. “And Shane’s like ‘I was, I swear. You’ve got to see my Hudl videos.’”

It didn’t take long for Eliason, a basketball junkie, to be convinced that, yeah, his new teammate could hoop

A few games of pickup with the former Lions standout only solidified that opinion.

“He’s like a TJ McConnell-type player, I think,” Eliason said. “Shane will disagree with me on that. We were stunned, and he’s as good as it looks (on tape),] we were just blown away.”

Anyone doubting Cohen’s athletic abilities at this point is deluding themselves.

Cohen is the new Division I outdoor champion at the 800 meters thanks to a spectacular run in the NCAA finals earlier this month. His story is one of the more remarkable ones in all of collegiate athletics. 

From a walk-on at Division II University of Tampa to a NCAA championship and now getting a shot at the Olympic Trials, the Huntingdon Valley native has found that giving up his first love and finding his second could have been the best thing to ever happen to him. 

“I just take pride in Shane not only just being one of the best runners in the NCAA, but also being probably one of the best dual-sport athletes I’ve ever met in my life,” Eliason said, “and it’s so cool to see him be good at basketball and at track.”

~~~

When Cohen arrived at the University of Tampa in the fall of 2019 to begin his freshman year, college athletics weren’t really on his mind. 


Shane Cohen as a senior at Lower Moreland High School in 2019. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

He had heard from Division III basketball programs coming out of his senior year at Lower Moreland, but nothing enough to grab his attention. Running was even further from his mind; despite a chance to run Division I at Rider, Cohen said he had “no interest.”

“I went to Tampa just for academics and just to enjoy my college experience,” Cohen told CoBL in a mid-June phone call, “and then I missed playing sports.”

It didn’t take long for an opportunity to present itself. A chance encounter one night with Tampa’s women’s basketball coach led to Cohen and three of his friends serving as women’s practice players for the season, tempted by the promise of some free gear and a chance to maybe walk onto the men’s program the following year.

That transition to the men’s team didn’t pan out. Instead, Cohen walked onto the Tampa track team. A runner in high school at Lower Moreland, he was never anything too special on the track, a third-place finish as a senior in the Class 3A 400m — then his best race — his top finish.

Cohen’s freshman year at Tampa saw him run a personal best time of 1:56.40 in the 800 before COVID shut everything down. As a sophomore, he lowered his time to 1:49.19, earning him a spot to the Division II championships, where he finished in ninth place (1:51.21). He made it back to the D-II championships as a junior, finishing sixth, but injuries slowed him down as a senior. 

Not ready to call his career an end, Cohen took advantage of his additional COVID eligibility and transferred to Virginia, enrolling in a two-year Master’s in Public Policy program. He wasn’t the only local product on the Cavaliers’ track team; long-distance and cross-country standout Gary Martin, an Archbishop Wood product, added some more Philly ‘burbs flavor to the Cavaliers.

Fully healthy for the first time in a couple years, Cohen’s times started to fall. In January, he ran 1:50.18 at the Penn State national open; by February, he was down to 1:48.15. As the times started to drop, two different goals came into his sights: a spot in the NCAA championships was first, but the US Olympic Trials weren’t far behind. 

To qualify for the trials, Cohen needed to post one of the fastest 30 times in the country. He got very close with a 1:47.5 at a race in April, then improved his time with a 1:46.89 at the ACC Championships in early May. It wasn’t until he ran a 1:45.36 in the NCAA regional qualifiers that he moved safely into the field. 

“Once I ran ACCs, I thought it’s maybe a strong possibility, but it’s not a lock yet,” he said. “But I still was motivated to run faster, and then from regionals, ran even faster and from there I knew I was getting in.”

As it turned out, Cohen was just getting started.

~~~

The Huntingdon Valley native’s story exploded on Friday, June 7, when he became the NCAA DIvision I outdoor track and field champion in the 800 meters. His win was remarkable, coming from dead last down the straightaway to capture the title in a thrilling race in Eugene, Oregon. It was the same way he’d raced his semifinal, staying in the back of the pack, saving his energy for one big kick.

His time of 1:44.97 was a career best, topping his old PR by more than a second. For context, the winning time at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021, was 1:45.06. The championship time at last year’s US Track & Field Championships was 1:46.20. 

“It was funny because one of my friends texted me, he’s like ‘wow, and you thought scoring 1,000 points was the most memorable sports moment of your career,’” Cohen said with a laugh. “I was like yeah, it’s unreal. Scoring 1,000 points is such a milestone, having my name in the rafters at Lower Moreland. But now I’m in the NCAA history, record books, winning. It’s super-unbelievable.”

Parts of the basketball community all over the Delaware Valley were tuned into the finale. That included Cohen’s former high school hoops coach, Seth Baron, who watched from home, amazed but not shocked by what his former player had accomplished. 

“He was a great basketball player, [but] he was an even greater athlete,” Baron said. “I’d like to see any of those guys on the track play against him.”

(Speaking of great athletes, a fact that didn’t fit anywhere else in this story but was too good to be left out: Cohen’s middle school teammate with the Huntingdon Valley Hurricanes travel team was none other than Marvin Harrison Jr., the No. 4 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.)

Cohen celebrates as he wins the NCAA Track & Field Division I 800 meters. (Photo courtesy Shane Cohen)

Cohen’s time doesn’t just put him in the mix to advance out of the heats at the US trials. He’s got a real chance at making it to the final, where a top-three finish would mean a trip to Paris for the XXXIII Olympiad later this summer. 

“It’s definitely really surreal,” he said. “The last three weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions [...] When I did regionals and did my 1:45.3, I was like, I have a legit shot at winning [nationals], and obviously I was not expecting to get under 1:45. But now it’s just like, wow, the sky’s the limit. 

“I really think I can even go faster.”

~~~

Cohen’s meteoric rise has affected not just his recent past and the near future, but the years beyond it as well. Suddenly, becoming a professional runner is not just a real option, but a probability. 

The plan right now is for him to return to Virginia to finish his Master’s degree. He has eligibility remaining in both cross-country and indoor track, though his outdoor eligibility is exhausted thanks to that first season at Tampa. 

“Becoming more and more realistic that running professionally is probably the path I should be taking,” Cohen said. “That’s the other decisions that I have to worry about with my coach, and come up with a plan on what’s the best thing to do — talking to agents and how to go about talking to them and what’s the right path, is it getting an NIL deal, whatever it might be. I’m so new to this whole thing, it’s happened so fast.”

Cohen’s immediate focus is on the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials, which begin on Friday, June 21 and go through Sunday, June 30. He’s currently out in Sun Valley, Ore., staying with a number of his Virginia teammates who also qualified for the trials in various other running events. 


Cohen poses with the NCAA championship trophy. (Photo courtesy Shane Cohen)

His first race won’t come until the 800 meter qualifying rounds on June 27. Based on his times, moving into the semifinal round should be easy enough; a top-three finish in that round and he’ll be racing for a spot in Paris.

With the seventh-best time of any man in the United States this year, Cohen’s got a good shot at making the final. From there, anything can happen; Cohen said he’d likely have to improve upon his career best by at least a second if he wants to have a realistic chance of representing his country on the biggest stage possible. 

Playing in the Olympics has been a lifelong dream for Cohen. Except, when he was younger, it wasn’t on the track that he pictured himself with Team USA on his jersey.

“When I was in high school and stuff I was only so big on basketball that I was watching really basketball,” he laughed. “Once I got to Tampa and started running a little more seriously, I was tuning into that a lot more."

It’s a path that’s been paved before. Three years ago, Southern Cal’s Isaiah Jewett qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, making it to the semifinals before a fall cost him a shot at a medal. Jewett will be in the mix again this year, along with another 2020 Olympian and the defending US champ in Bryce Hoppel, as well as Cohen’s NCAA rival-turned-friend, Texas A&M’s Sam Whitmarsh.

“The USA [nationals] are every year and seeing how the collegiates end up showing out, it gives me hope that I can do that, too,” Cohen said. “Because usually you’ll end up with one or two professionals and then that one college kid gets into the third spot. Which would get me to Paris. 

“It definitely motivates me that it’s not a lock, that it’s all professionals. I’m trying to keep confident, and hopefully that’s going to be me.”


D-I Coverage:

HS Coverage:

Recruiting News:

Tag(s): Home  Josh Verlin  High School  SOL Freedom (B)  Lower Moreland