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It could have been the Loch Ness Monster — giant, mysterious and foreboding. Or, as some preferred, the Kelpie: a mystical shape-shifter often portrayed as a water horse in Scottish lore.

But what emerged as Macalester College's new mascot for the Scots, after months of discussion and weeks of voting by thousands of students, alums and faculty, caught Athletic Director Donnie Brooks by surprise.

"A cow," he said. "And it wasn't even close."

Specifically, the Highland cow. Or as the folks in Scotland call them, Hairy Coos.

Judging by the joyful cheer that erupted when Macalester President Suzanne Rivera announced the winner at Saturday's commencement ceremonies, the furry and long-horned bovine from the chilly highlands and islands of Scotland was a popular choice indeed. Even if Rivera admitted to being a member of Team Loch Ness Monster instead.

"But as we took into consideration the results of all this eliciting of input, I'm fully on board to welcome a new companion to help me cheer on our athletic teams," Rivera said. "And as a final parting gift to you, the Class of 2024, we'll be handing out T-shirts featuring our new mascot to all graduates after the ceremony."

More cheers.

The cow was graduating senior Lia Grant's choice, said parents Rachel Panush and William Grant of Los Angeles.

"She thinks cows are cute," Grant said of Lia, a psychology major. "And she didn't like Nessie because Nessie's not real."

The process of replacing Mac the Scot with a new mascot was part of a refresh for Macalester's 150th anniversary. It began last fall with a survey to gauge interest, Brooks said. College officials got a lot more input than they expected.

"We've been kind of overwhelmed by the kind of input our community has been willing to give," Brooks said, referring to a deluge of surveys, ranked choice voting and selection committee whittling.

"But there were some ideas that we didn't really expect. Who would have thought that a Kelpie would be our mascot? But the one that really surprised us and fit the criteria was the Highland Cow."

The final vote between Nessie and the cow?

"I will say it was highly contested, but the cow won out on all criteria and all measures," Brooks said.

One of those measures — another one that Macalester officials didn't give much thought to until recently — was that not only is the Highland cow a real creature, but that there's a chance that a real, live Highland cow could wind up on the sideline of a Macalester football game or track meet.

Brooks said officials have learned of several farms within driving distance of the St. Paul college that have Highland cows, bulls and calves on hand.

Kalid Ali, 21, of St. Paul runs the 400- and 800-meter for Macalester's track team. Ali said he preferred the cow as a mascot because of its link to the college's Scottish history — and also because of a cow's role in Macalester hijinks history. In the school's early days, a cow (though not a Highland) was brought up to the third floor of Old Main as a student prank.

Does Ali think that seeing a shaggy cow on the sideline will give him an extra shot of speed in the 400?

"I think that might do it," he said. "Seeing the cow in the last 200 might push me."

The Highland Cow will make its debut on uniforms and other merchandise this fall after Mac the Scot retires to Scotland in August, when Macalester's pipe band will perform in the world championships in Glasgow.