By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Former Willamette University distance runner Michaela Freeby ('15) is in her third year as an assistant coach for the Bearcat men's and women's cross country and track and field teams. While competing for the Bearcats from 2011-12 through 2014-15, Freeby had an outstanding career as a collegiate runner.
In cross country, Freeby competed at the NCAA Cross Country Championships all four years. She earned All-America honors in cross country in 2013 by placing eighth in the nation. She helped Willamette finish 12th at the NCAA meet in 2013 and contributed to the Bearcats earning 15th place in 2014. She won the West Region title in 2013 and was named West Region Women's Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She was second in the West Region in 2014 and finished ninth in 2011 and 2012.
Freeby won the Northwest Conference individual cross country championship in 2013, was third in 2012 and 2014, and placed fifth in 2011. She helped the Bearcats claim NWC team championships during her junior and senior seasons.
As a track and field athlete, Freeby placed fourth at the NCAA Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2013 and 2015. She took 13th place in 2012 and was 17th in 2014. In the NWC, she won the steeplechase championship in 2012, 2013, and 2015, and took first place in the 1,500-meter run in 2014.
Freeby received a bachelor's degree in Biology from Willamette in 2015. She was the 2015 Jean Williams Award winner as the top senior women's student-athlete.
"Some key moments from my time at Willamette are track and cross country conference meets," Freeby said. "These were always special."
"I also have a lot of positive memories of working with different professors and staff throughout my time at WU," Freeby added. "Professor David Craig helped me to realize how much I love studying birds. Professor Rebecca Dobkins, my freshman advisor, helped support me in adjusting to college. The athletic trainers supported me athletically and mentally all four years while I was at WU. And, of course, Head Coach Matt McGuirk and Assistant Coach Brett Franz supported me endlessly throughout my time at WU."
"In the long and storied history of Willamette cross country and track and field, we have had dozens and dozens of absolutely amazing student-athletes. Michaela is certainly at the top of that list when it comes to integrity, commitment, competitiveness, and accountability," McGuirk said.
For Freeby, building relationships with everyone around her was a very important part of her years as a student-athlete for the Bearcats.
"Basically all of my key moments were about the relationships I was able to build at Willamette," Freeby said. "Many of my best friends are people I met at Willamette.
"I also did work study in the training room and working for Coach Franz and helping with recruiting and home meet set-up (I am really good at bunching safety pins for running bibs)," Freeby commented. "During this time, I discovered a passion for research and education. During the summers and after undergrad I worked at multiple different field jobs doing ornithological studies. I loved the research and got my Master of Education degree in 2018. Now I get to teach a field biology class (at Sprague High School in Salem) that I designed in my high school."
She is able to bring the many things she has learned to her coaching duties with the Willamette cross country and track and field teams. She can relate to the current student-athletes because of her own years on the team and the accomplishments she achieved as a Bearcat.
"Of course my experiences being an athlete at WU allow me to have a well-rounded perspective of the program," Freeby noted. "Additionally, my experience running on Team Run Eugene after college helped me to develop my coaching philosophy further. At TRE, I ran under Coach Ian Dobson. He was so knowledgeable and I also had amazing teammates, many of whom were Olympians or Olympic trial qualifiers, and being able to learn from these elite athletes helped me to grow so much in my own approach to running."
"She made everyone around her better when she was here as a student and we are extremely fortunate to have her back at Willamette as a staff member," McGuirk commented.
Freeby also carries what she's learned from athletics into other groups that she works with as a high school teacher. She's still meeting people and forming friendships.
"Outside of coaching, I am a club advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Political Action Club at Sprague High School," Freeby said. "I enjoy volunteering at high school track meets when they are happening and I still train a lot on my own."