Makena Morley will transfer to the University of Colorado to compete for one of the best running programs in the nation.
The Bigfork native told the Beacon on Tuesday she committed to Colorado and will leave the University of Montana. Morley, a true freshman, visited the Pac-12 school two weeks ago and will enroll for the spring semester.
UM granted Morley a transfer-release to look at other schools earlier this month after Morley expressed interest in changing schools upon completing her first semester last week.
Morley also visited Iowa State University last weekend before deciding on Colorado.
Under famed coach Mark Wetmore, both the Colorado men’s and women’s teams finished second at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
“I’m really excited and I feel really good about the decision,” Morley said. “I went on a visit there and I really loved coach Wetmore and assistant coach Heather Burroughs. They really know what they’re doing and I think they will really help me achieve my goals for college and beyond college.”
Morley will be joining fellow Flathead Valley native Zach Perrin, a redshirt sophomore at Colorado and former state champion at Flathead High School. Missoula’s Adam Peterman and Chris Herrick also run for the Buffs.
“Before my visit, I chatted with them and asked them what they think of the program and the coaches, and they said they just love it and really respect the coaches,” Morley said. “That was nice to hear. It will be fun to be teammates with them.”
The 19-year-old will move to Boulder in early January before the new semester begins. She plans to redshirt during the upcoming indoor track season while allowing her foot to heal. She has been battling plantar fasciitis since August. Depending on the nagging injury and if she can train properly, she could return for the outdoor track season that starts in March.
While visiting Boulder, Morley ran with members of the CU cross country team and the experience helped settle her decision.
“At first I was kind of scared but now I’m really excited to be able to train with those girls. It’s a very talented group,” she said.
One of the all-time great high school runners from Montana and the Big Sky Conference cross country champion this fall, Morley told the Beacon there were frustrations at UM stemming from her relationship with the girls cross country coach, Collin Fehr.
“I love Missoula and the team but the cross country coach (Collin Fehr) and I really had different views on everything in life, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but we were just too different by the end of the season and I couldn’t handle that anymore,” she said.
Morley said the decision to leave UM was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m really excited to see what the future holds for me.”
She said representing her home state of Montana during her freshman season was a dream come true.
Fehr responded to a request for comment from the Beacon by saying in an email, “Makena is a top caliber runner and an amazing person. The Griz family was fortunate enough to share in her successes and she brought a lot of excitement to the program. Not only was our University well represented but the state of Montana as a whole. I value the time I had to work with Makena as her coach. She taught me many things that benefitted my own development and I hold her in the highest esteem. I am confident she has the potential to accomplish many great things in her career and my belief in her remains unwavering.”
When asked in a followup question by the Beacon to characterize his relationship with Morley and whether he was aware of any issues, he responded, “I seek to establish strong connections characterized by warmth and caring with all of my athletes. I genuinely enjoyed coaching Makena throughout her time at UM and continue to value her as a person. My coaching approach is highly individualized and I welcome feedback at any time from all of my athletes and continue to do so.”
UM Track and Field Program Director Brian Schweyen did not return a phone message or email seeking comment.
UM is losing its top distance runner, who became the school’s first athlete to qualify for NCAA Nationals since 2009.
As one of the top prep runners in the nation at Bigfork High School, Morley was heavily recruited by Division I programs across the West. Early in her senior year, she said she had narrowed her list down to five potential schools — Utah, Boise State, Iowa State, Northern Arizona and University of Montana.
As a true freshman this fall, she proved she can compete against top Division I talent. Morley won her debut race in Bozeman by more than 40 seconds, clocking 16:43 for three miles. The race included runners from Montana, Montana State, Utah, Utah State and Idaho State.
After missing a stretch of season due to a foot injury, Morley returned in November to win the Big Sky Conference cross country championship in Cedar City, Utah, covering the 5K course in 17:45. She became Montana’s first cross country conference champ since 2000.
She went on to place 39th at NCAA Pre-Nationals in Kentucky and was the seventh fastest freshman in the elite race, clocking 20:40.3.
At NCAA Nationals, she placed 97th in 20:49.
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