Making a mark in Division I track and field is not easy. To be a freshman in such a competitive environment, and to still be able to conquer the pressure and succeed is very rare. Michelle Atherley, has made serious strides in her first year at Auburn University. Atherley made it to the NCAA DI Indoor Nationals in the pentathlon, the only freshmen to do so; and she also competed at the outdoor championships in the 4x100m relay, anchoring the team. After what seemed to be a great season, Atherley has revealed she won't be returning to Auburn next fall. The former Port Charlotte High School hurdler will come back home to Florida, to start her new journey at the University of Miami.
After announcing the news to her friends and family via Instagram, I sat down and spoke with Atherley about this big move she was about to take from the SEC to the ACC. We began to just talk about the whole process of transferring, and what lead her to decide to leave Auburn when things looked to be going so good. She relayed that going into indoor season she had started training with a whole new coach and taking a new outlook on her training. "That made things difficult, but with the doubts, I told myself to stick it out and make the best of the situation," Atherley explained. Even with the troubles, she qualified to compete at indoor nationals in the pentathlon with 4,148 points. She didn't place where she thought she should in the competition, later being advised not to compete in the multis come outdoor season.
"With my heart in multis, I went into the season with little conditioning or focus on any particular events. I felt something was off going through training and school, but I was taught not to react off one feeling and so I stuck it out again, and tried to make the best of running and school," Atherley said.
Sticking it out wasn't doing the trick, so after speaking to her former club coach, Dereck Walker (Fast Lane Track Club), she decided that Auburn was no longer a fit for her. Trying to stay positive throughout the entire experience, Atherley said, "I love the school and am happy that I got to experience an environment outside of Florida."
Being that Auburn is in the SEC, the toughest track and field conference, there will be obvious differences as far as competition, the environment and the program with Atherley's move to Miami. As a high school senior, Atherly took official recruiting visits to 4 other schools beside Auburn, one of them being the University of Miami. "I did visit Miami and fell in love with the school. I am a Florida girl so coming to a place like Auburn was very different," she said. Throughout the whole conversation, Atherley was very excited to finally be able to talk her new home saying, "I really think I will have great leadership and direction at Miami. Auburn had its great parts, but I believe Miami will be great as a whole."
The University of Miami, will be the reigning ACC Indoor Champions going into next fall. Soon to become a part of a winning program in the ACC and nationally, I asked Atherley what she's looking to contribute to her team and her goals going into next year, she explained, "I have big goals. I had big goals coming into college, but now I am hungrier. I want to win! I will be an ACC Champion and I will be a serious competition nationals both indoor and outdoor... I think I can help make up for the amazing seniors that Miami is losing this year. They brought a lot of points to the team, and I hope I can help fill those spots."
New program, equals a possible different, and more difficult coaching style that the athlete will have to adapt to. Since Atherley switched coaches during her time at Auburn, I asked her what she wanted from her new coach. She said she was looking for coaches she can trust, teach her, and help perfect her craft. "I expect a close relationship with my coaches. With all the events in the multis I think communication is important. Even now there is still so much I don't know about track and field, so I'm looking forward to learning," Atherley said.
Moving to Miami, Atherley will finally be able to wholeheartedly pursue her love for multi events. Going to nationals in the pentathlon this year is such a great accomplishment, and having not actually competed in a heptathlon since high school; I presumed the pentathlon would be Atherleys' favorite. I was wrong. She told me that she would have to prefer the heptathlon simply because there are more events, and she like outdoors more in general. Every athlete is their own worse critic, and with that being said, I asked her what events she needed to improve on going into next season. Atherley assessed her skill set and said, "I definitely need to get back on top of the long jump, and I haven't thrown a javelin in a year. Shot put could always improve, but I think that long jump and javelin is where I have to most room for improvement."
Michelle Atherley is not the same Port Charlotte HS hurdler we saw for the first time last year. She transformed to a complete powerhouse in the multis and sprints for Auburn. Now she's returning home to Florida, keeping her desire alive to compete even after a physically and mentally challenging freshman season. Looking from the outside of the glass looking in, it seems that the University of Miami will be a perfect fit for Michelle. The girls team is very close knit, the coaches are very involved in the process of developing their athletes and the program is getting bigger and better.
Congratulations Michelle! I wish you the best at your new home, and great luck moving forward.