KENT It’s a long way from New Franklin to Gainesville, Fla.
But the 938 miles mattered much less to former Manchester standout Alyssa Matheny than the 5' 8.75" she cleared to win what she called “a much larger meet than I’ve been to in my whole life.”
The Kent State sophomore won the high jump at the University of Florida Tom Jones Memorial meet late last month, recording her second-best height of the season and earning her first win since an indoor dual meet against Akron in late January, punctuating a sophomore season that has seen her continue to make an impact on the college level after a record-setting high school career.
“Honestly, I was a little nervous going in, but I started warming up and I was feeling good and confident in how it was going and how I was going to do,” Matheny said.
She admitted that even in high school, she tended to perform better in big meets and on the college level, most every meet can have that feel. Gone are dual meets against league rivals where the crowd can number less than 100 and in its place are meets featuring Division I teams from across the country, athletes from around the world and sometimes, television cameras.
At the UF meet, schools such as Florida State, Miami, Syracuse, Tennessee and North Carolina were part of the field, providing a challenging collection of opponents for Matheny and the rest of the Golden Flashes.
The jump from high school track to the college level can be intimidating for any athlete, but Matheny had a bit of a head start on understanding that leap. Her older sisters, Kayla and Christina, both ran track in college, with Kayla competing for Muskingum and Christina at Wingate.
Last season, as a freshman trying to settle in on a new team, Matheny leaned on her sisters for advice early and often.
“Most definitely, my freshman year was really difficult for me coming from a small school and competing in Division I at such a large school with such a large track team, at times I did get down on myself,” Matheny said. “My sisters, they also competed track in college and they were able to help a lot. I would go to them and ask, ’Is it normal to feel that way?’ and they would help me and tell me that’s how it’s supposed to be, you might struggle at times.”
One difference between her college track experience and those of her sisters is that, while there are meets such as the UF contest, going to Kent means she’s closer to home than Kayla or Christina were during their college careers.
The short distance between New Franklin and Kent has allowed family members, friends, former coaches and high school teammates to attend meets and cheer Matheny on. Often, some of them will follow results online for meets further from home and message her about how well she’s doing.
That level of success has allowed Matheny to further raise her own expectations, a process that is ongoing in the best possible way.
“I feel like you always have this goal or idea to go bigger than you think you can, but once you start competing and succeeding and reaching goals higher than you ever expected to, you have make those dreams into new ones,” she said.
The UF win was one such moment and given the field at the event, it’s safe to say it put her on the radar for those who may not have known about her before.
Part of that success may also stem from having more chances to compete, hone her craft and go up against a higher level of talent due to how much larger and longer the college track and field season is than high school. With a full indoor season over the winter and an outdoor season that occupies virtually the entire spring, college track dwarfs its high school counterpart.
At Manchester, there was no official indoor team, although Matheny and a few other athletes created a club team to compete at indoor meets at Kent State and Akron. That also wasn’t the only time she set foot on a college campus while in high school, as she took post secondary classes and was able to get a head start on her degree before becoming a full-time college student.
Now a business management major, she isn’t quite certain yet what her career path will be after graduation, but has a couple more years to figure that out. If she can mirror the success she’s had on the track when it comes to academics and the work world, she’ll be on a winning path regardless of where her degree leads.
The question she’ll face after graduation, ironically, is the same once she’s facing after her meet-winning leap in Gainesville as she tries to use it as a launching point to bigger and even better things: What’s next?
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB