BOULDER, Colo. — Makena Morley had to get used to the campus of the University of Colorado. After attending high school in Bigfork, then one cross country season at the University of Montana in Missoula, Morley headed south to Boulder, Colorado.
It’s a decision she hasn’t regretted once.
“I really love it. It’s a big change from Bigfork, a lot bigger school, obviously it’s college, but I’ve been loving being on such a great team,” Morley said. “I think having girls and women to run with that are just as good or better than you is so important for yourself to get better. It really teaches you how to be humble and how to be a teammate, so that’s my favorite aspect, running with my whole team, being able to race with them, seeing them every single day and seeing their struggles and amazing things. It’s definitely made me a better person being around all these girls.”
Morley’s teammates owe just as much to her. A five-time all-American at Colorado, Morley placed eighth in the fall’s NCAA Cross Country Championships, helping the Buffs to the national team title. Her teammate and roommate, Dani Jones, was crowned the individual medalist.
“That was definitely, probably the best moment I’ve had so far in my life. I’ll probably have more great moments, but that definitely is on the top of the list,” she said. “We had been favorites the two years before that and we just hadn’t put it all together when we needed to. Then on my last year and my roommate Dani Jones’ last year, she won the whole thing. There were a whole bunch of us where it was our last year and we just put it together. It was the most amazing feeling ever. Everyone was sobbing the whole time, happy tears.
“Cross country had always been my favorite, the thing I was best at in high school, and when I got to college I never did what I wanted to do until this last fall, so being able to be in the top 10 was really amazing. I didn’t even really realize what was going on until the finish line. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m in the top 10 and my teammate is up there winning.’ It was a really emotional day, really awesome to see all of our hard work pay off.”
As the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships opened Wednesday in Austin, Texas, Morley, who has a year of both indoor and outdoor track eligibility remaining next season, chases all-American finishes No. 6 and No. 7.
A qualifier in two events, the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs, Morley’s national championships begin Thursday evening in the 10,000, where she placed 11th at the NCAAs last year, earning second-team all-American honors.
She also qualified to run in Saturday’s 5,000.
Though she currently lives some 15 hours southeast of Bigfork, and is competing nearly double that distance away in the weekend’s NCAA Championships, Morley never forgets where her journey began.
“I always have Montana in the back of my mind. I wear my Montana earrings a lot when I race and I’m like, ‘I do it for my home state,’” said Morley. “It is crazy to think about, because I think I came into college with some really high expectations and my first couple years I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I kind of had to learn how to get over that and it became, ‘OK, you have to work. College is different than high school. You have to work a lot harder.’ Now it’s cool looking back and going, ‘I worked hard and it’s paid off.’”
For more information on Morley and the three other Montanans competing in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, please click here.